God on Trial

God on Trial is a vital and important piece of theatre. A group of Jews in Auschwitz decide to put God in the docks and debate in absentia whether he has broken His covenant to His people. Twenty fours later some of them, though it is never clear who, will be executed. From the outset it should be said that though a piece of theatre God on Trial is not really a play. It is best described as an emotionally charged philosophical discussion that seeks to comprehend the incomprehensible. It tries to work out the finer points of theology, metaphysics, morality and man’s relationship with His maker in the spiritual wasteland of the Holocaust.

It manages to ramp up the philosophical stakes with a concluding thought that strikes the stomach like an avalanche.

CUADC’s version of God on Trial is an earnest one. The set is minimally designed and the costumes and music are all strikingly simple. This leaves the production entirely in the hands of the actors. This pays off but only at times. The performances run the full gamut from the weirdly pantomimic to the genuinely sublime. Justin Blanchard as Mordechai is wonderful. Understated and gaunt, he manages to make his character more than a cipher and brought tears to my eyes in his final scene of thwarted sacrifice. Tom Walter as Schmidt is also good as a man whose calm idealism looks increasingly perilous, while Yasmin Freeman as Baumgarten puts in a touching turn as the judge, an ex-anti-Semite thrown into the camps who still believes in order. Some of the portrayals however shade it must be said into Fiddler on the Roof territory and consequently raised a few unintended smiles in the audience. Accents were sometimes comically strong and the shouting sometimes comically melodramatic.

But the play remains strong despite. As it hurtles towards its climax one worries that it will somehow capitulate, that the play will suddenly go one way or the other, that it won’t continue its high wire act right to the very end. Not only does it avoid this but it even manages to ramp up the philosophical stakes with a concluding thought that strikes the stomach like an avalanche. An interesting side note to the play is that references to a possible future state of Israel seem shot through with a contemporary significance which if anything makes it even more morally complex.

Overall God on Trial is for the most part solidly performed, both straight and sincere and it brings home its moral insight with terrific and terrifying force.  

Reviews by Rory Mackenzie

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

As a group of male Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp wait to discover their faith of either hard labour or death, they decide to put God on trial. The charge is that God has broken the covenant made with the Jewish people by allowing the Nazis to commit genocide. The prisoners put forward their arguments and fundamental questions are raised concerning religion, morality and the purpose of human existence. The journey to a verdict leads us through the Jewish faith and the personal experiences of the prisoners: reason and emotion collide.