Way to Heaven

Juan Mayorga, translated by David Johnston
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
(2005)

This unusual promenade piece from Spain eventually packs a real punch. Its subject is the Holocaust and a strange version of its denial.

The space is converted into a bare black box with the audience spread around, becoming increasingly uncomfortable through the 100 minutes duration. This is a deliberate move by director Ramin Gray to create greater empathy with the subjects.

The first part is devoted to a monologue delivered by Jeff Rawle, playing a Red Cross Representative invited to inspect a concentration camp near Berlin in 1942.

His testimony is odd because he is the only man who visits a camp and manages to find the incumbents relatively well fed and happy. He is encouraged in this by the charming commandant and the head of a Jewish family, the latter part portrayed well by Richard Katz.

Like almost every play at the Royal Court recently, we then track back in and repeat time. On this occasion the effect is devastating, as we learn why the camp is a relative Pleasure Garden.

The Commandant, played by the excellent Dominic Rowan, is an intellectual and a theatre director. He has been hired to recruit Jews whose sole purpose in life, very literally, is to con the Red Cross man and through him, the world.

As the play develops, the analogies with the producers of theatre are brought out chillingly, as we see the action blocked, the parts cast and recast and the event painstakingly rehearsed.

The difference here is that when the "cast" is cut to 100, there can only be one outcome for those deemed superfluous. We know it and so do their peers, many of them children (including the excellent Emma Pinto), who hear trains passing by and see smoke rising from chimneys.

This is where the actions of the gullible witness must be questioned. While he may believe his eyes at a superficial level, he also saw the trains and plumes of black smoke but, like so many at the time, turned a blind eye to whatever was not fed to him on a plate.

Way to Heaven is a very powerful drama that has an immense impact on the viewer. It may be too late to stop the Holocaust but other inhumane acts are going on around us, covered by media spin and lies. What Juan Mayorga is telling us is to stand up and be counted in the war against injustice. For the sake of humanity, his message should be taken to heart.

Philip Fisher