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Primo

Based on If This Is a Man by Primo Levi, adapted by Antony Sher
Heritage Theatre
DVD £19.99 (all regions excluding USA)
(2005)

Whether you succeeded in securing a ticket to see Primo at the National Theatre or Hampstead or not, this is a must-have DVD.

Sir Antony Sher's adaptation of one of Primo Levi's books about his experiences in Auschwitz is deeply powerful and very moving. His performance under the direction of Richard Wilson is outstanding and we should all be grateful to Robert Marshall of Heritage Theatre for arranging to film it for posterity.

Since there is little action, we are forced to concentrate on Sir Antony and his wonderful portrayal of Levi. He ignores the temptation to dress as a prisoner and instead resembles the writer later in his life. Somehow, this makes his testament even more chilling and believable as does the matter-of-fact delivery.

This lone man wanders around a large empty space and conjures up pictures of the most horrific and inhumane experiences in "The House of the Dead" where life expectancy for new arrivals was a mere eight weeks. However, Primo, the humanist never loses hope nor his sense of irony.

The fact that he survived was the result of help from surprising sources and his good fortune to be a chemist, a profession needed by the Third Reich. Sir Antony also attributes the detail that makes the book so valuable to training in this discipline.

The only support that the exposed actor has in Hildegard Bechtler's bare cell of a set comes from cellist Robin Thomson-Clarke and superb lighting designer Paul Pyant. In addition to the 90-minute performance,there is also a short "bonus" containing 20 minutes of interviews with actor/adapter and director, covering some of the themes explored in more detail in the book, Primo Time.

Buy this DVD. Primo is a vitally important piece of theatre. Like the very best artistic experiences, it has the power to change people's attitudes for the better.

In a world where the Holocaust is being denied and forgotten there is a real danger that it might be repeated. In this sad context, Primo could save lives.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher