The Investigation

Peter Weiss, adapted by Jean Baudrillard
Urwintore
Young Vic
(2007)

Production photo

The Investigation provides a true cultural melting pot: a play by a Czech-born Swede about Nazi war crimes, translated into French and performed by a company of Rwandans in England.

The primary interest was always likely to be the opportunity to see actors who have witnessed their own genocide responding to the Holocaust, which almost removed a whole community two generations before.

For much of its 90 minutes, the production, conceived and directed by Dorcy Rugamba and Isabelle Gyselinx for Urwintore, will seem strange to European eyes.

The seven actors, six men and a woman all dressed in off-white, make a slow, deliberate entrance into an almost bare playing space. This sets the tone for an evening that understands the seriousness of its subject.

For part of the time, witnesses give testimonies about the horrors of Auschwitz, generally remaining impassive and unemotional even when describing the deaths and disappearances of loved ones.

Much of the play is also taken up with the 1964 War Crimes Trial in Frankfurt, which investigated the guilt of those who administered the camps. Without exception, they deny complicity, either protesting mistaken identity or claiming that they were forced into murderous actions.

There are some truly chilling moments running through The Investigation and one really feels for a team of actors who know how close these stories are to their own experiences.

The production is very low-key, presumably to contrast the delivery with the tales that are recounted, although there are occasional moments of anger, one replayed in the language of Rwanda (?) and then surtitled in French in order to draw a specific parallel between the two horrors.

The Investigation is moving, if deliberately untheatrical, addressing as it does such terrible treatment of human beings twice over. It joins a select canon that, in recent years has been spearheaded by Antony Sher's supremely humane performance in his own adaptation of Primo Levi's If This is a Man.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher