Friday, 20 July 2018

REVIEW: The White Rose at The Brockley Jack Theatre

Now in its fifth year, the Arrows & Traps Theatre Company is back with a heart breaking and grippingly human story of a group of young activists, The White Rose, led by Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans, who in 1943 published underground anti-Nazi leaflets calling for the peaceful overthrow of Hitler and paid for it with their lives after being discovered.

The show opens with images and words from Hitler laughing at how the English think the Germans will soon fold and are tired of war. This only makes his rage bigger and we watch how the war machine grows, how people become consumed with only one fatal aim: absolute war. This can’t help but set an uneasy feeling in the theatre, and soon after, we discover Sophie Scholl being interrogated by Robert Mohr. The interrogation is interspersed with scenes of friendship and fun with her sibling and friends with whom she studied philosophy and biology at university in Munich. While continuously bantering about Kant and Goethe, they are also organising the distribution of thousands of anti-Nazi leaflets around the country.

What strikes is how young they all are. This seems obvious, but when you think about it, history can often be overshadowed by actions of middle-aged military officers, especially when you think of World War II. Youth is shown as an innocent and oblivious time, but these heroes, most of them having been members of the Hitler Youth, have developed their own mind and do not want to stand for what is happening around them in their country. They fall in and out of love, enjoy parties and good wine at night (I wonder whether more substances than alcohol were ever used?) and are looking for their place in society. 

One of my favourite scenes is the one where Sophie (Lucy Ioannou) sits drawing pictures with Alexander Schmorell (Conor Moss). They are asking themselves what they will do first when the war is over. There is no question of changing oneself or of leaving Germany behind, but rather gaining the country they love back, and fully living in it. We see love growing between the two, a love which cannot be enjoyed fully due to Sophie’s fiancĂ© being away at war and to both of them being so unsure, as is the case for the other members of the White Rose, of what life really has in store for them. The thirst for freedom is palpable and it is a beautifully acted scene.

As we approach the end of the show, and the fate of Sophie, Hans (Will Pinchin) and their friend Christoph (Pearce Sampson) is sealed (those three were the first in the group to be executed), we are taken by the emotion of the three performers and can’t help asking ourselves what we would have done in their circumstances.

This play is very well written and directed by Ross McGregor, inserting humour,
love and celebration into these character’s lives, and then gripping our hearts when there is no more exit. The White Rose members did not want to die as martyrs, they wanted to taste life. When they are about to die, Sophie screams how she doesn’t want to! And we feel her agony. 

The lighting design by Ben Jacobs works very well around the small stage, bringing warm life into the youth’s apartment and a coldness to the interrogation and streets of Munich. It is finely coordinated with the movement directed by Roman Berry, bringing in dance and choreography to the transitions between scenes. Finally, I thought the costumes were detailed and contributed greatly to the performances and the time period. 

The ensemble of actors worked extremely well together, and those that stood out for me were Christopher Tester as interrogator Mohr, trying to help Sophie while hanging on very strongly to the Third Reich’s laws; Conor Moss as the eccentric member of the group who is always making jokes, even when he is himself arrested; Will Pinchin, who brings great energy and realism to Hans; and Lucy Ioannou who brings elegance, insolence and light to Sophie Scholl. 

What was missing for me in the piece was a scene where Sophie witnesses what will be her wake-up call to action. Somehow, it seemed too much that she, at first, was just following her brother, wanting to imitate what he was doing. Then again, greatness can come from simple human coincidences, so perhaps she really did need her brother to reach that stage of rebellion herself. 

This is a strong and emotional piece that people should go down to Brockley to see. I hope it will transfer or go on tour, as this story is extremely important to remember. 

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Free seating | Price of Ticket: £16
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