A Lesson From Auschwitz

James Hyland
Brother Wolf
Pavilions, Teignmouth

Not the most pleasant hour but A Lesson From Auschwitz is compelling theatre.

Written and directed by and ‘portraying’ Rudolf Höss, James Hyland has recreated a chilling presentation purportedly (but it is historical fact that such a presentation did take place in 1941) to senior SS officers regarding their absolute duty to extinguish all verminous Jews regardless of age, sex, status or history and to introduce the insecticide Zyclon B that will do so proficiently, cleanly and fast.

Using recently recaptured escapee Abraham Könisberg (a heartbreaking ‘portrayal’ by Michael Shon) as his example, Höss, devoid of emotion, demonstrates abuse, humiliation and psychological and physical torture.

Political hygiene is foremost for Höss whose efficient layout of living block, gas chamber and crematoria was deemed the height of effective genocide and exalted as such.

Difficult watching, particularly as the strutting, posturing Höss fixates with a stare and encroaches on personal space up front, and an uncomfortable feeling of complicity pervades as Shon is flogged to within an inch of the tenuous hold he still has on life and faith.

The full horror of the solution to the ‘Jewish problem’ unfolds as pity is admonished, sterilisation is mooted and children first is justified as, as with tyrants the world over, the youngest generation are those who will breed and seek revenge in the future.

Höss’s delivery is precise and cold for the most part rationalising the irrational with absolute, unwavering conviction in the requirement for calculated slaughter and moved to spitting ferocity momentarily as Könisberg finds his voice and bites back with shocking revelation.

Over-gestured at times but horribly real, it is indeed a timely lesson with rising domestic xenophobia and prejudice abounding worldwide.

Dedicated to all victims of the Holocaust, those who were murdered and those who survived, proceeds from the commemorative production will be donated to charity.

Brother Wolf was established in 1998 by Artistic Director James Hyland and awards include Best Performer in Theatre (Fringe Report Awards 2012) and a nomination for The London Theatre Award (London Awards for Art and Performance 2012).

Reviewer: Karen Bussell