Set in 1944 in the isolated corner of labour camp Monowicze, this production follows the story of Menachem Stressler prisoner, Jew and beekeeper.
Stressler, played sensitively by Eliot Giuralarocca, is removed from the rest of the prisoners to tend the bees and as such is viewed as a collaborator by his fellow prisoners. Whilst not suffering the exact same set of hardships, his mental pain, however, is just as intense and increases after Kommandant Richard Baer (Robert Harding) starts paying him regular visits, pushing his faith and character to the maximum.
As the Russians advance and the play unfolds, Baer’s power begins to crumble along with his resolve as he begins to seek redemption. The script captures perfectly the warped morality often associated with warfare in which Baer seeks to justify all of his actions within the context of Monowicze. It is a twisted relationship that the two men share and a compelling one.
Spencer Cummings creates a strong presence as the frustrated Sergeant Beck with balled fists and clenched jaw. His barely controlled anger strikes an excellent contrast to the more sophisticated Harding as Baer. Chris Westgate is also engaging as Soloman Kolbe, Stresslar’s only contact with the rest of the camp and only friend. His forced cheerful disposition makes him a sympathetic, likeable character and the moment where he gobbles up the rations clearly displays his underlying desperation. The constant hugging and gesturing of Kolbe and Stresslar is a heart warming touch of humanity in the stark and dark surroundings.
Running at 90 minutes, this play is, as you would expect, thought provoking and engrossing. It is not, however, the harrowing and depressing evening that it could so easily have been. Whilst the facts of this horrendous time are indeed discussed in detail, the focus remains fixed upon the characters and their coping mechanisms.
With tight direction, the pace and proxemics are carefully measured and whilst the claustrophobia of the excellent set (designed by Victoria Spearing) is felt, the actors never look uncomfortable or restricted within the space. The barbed wire fence gives the stage an extra touch of bleakness and the rumbling of the trains overhead adds an ominous air to the show.
This is an intriguing power play with a chilling edge that shines in the hands of this capable cast.
Reviewer: Amy Yorston