Into That Darkness

Franz Stangl oversaw the deaths of almost a million people during the fourteen months he was Commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. And there were many more, while he held other positions beforehand. Into That Darkness is based on 70 hours of real life interviews with Stangl conducted by the journalist Gitta Sereny, whose focus – and therefore also that of Robert David MacDonald’s adaptation – was on discovering what was happening inside Stangl's head at the time. What had he thought about the people whose deaths he was responsible for? How had he he justified his behaviour to himself? In short, how had seemingly ordinary people come to be responsible for such evil?

Neil Haynes’ design places the action inside a perspex box with clearly visible bars at the front separating us from the action. The set itself is a bare room – just anonymous chairs and tables – but the effect of that box is to make us feel that an attempt is being made to contain the evil, and keep us separate from it.

Perhaps the most striking feature of this production is the set. Neil Haynes’ design places the action inside a perspex box with clearly visible bars at the front separating us from the action. The set itself is a bare room – just anonymous chairs and tables – but the effect of that box is to make us feel that an attempt is being made to contain the evil, and keep us separate from it. By forcing us to be constantly aware of a physical barrier between Stengl and us, the design allows us to see that the psychological barrier we have erected is equally artificial. The play is not interested in Stengl as an isolated monster, to be kept separate from the rest of humanity; instead, it asks us to recognise that potential for evil in all of us, perhaps because only by acknowledging it can we hope to prevent it from happening again.

In keeping with this interpretation is the character of Stengl himself. Cliff Burnett’s performance is almost embarrassingly ordinary, not a simple monster we can dismiss, not exceptionally cruel or even exceptionally intelligent. Just an ordinary person who, when he actually gives explanations for his behaviour, turns out to have reasons that are frighteningly mundane, even familiar. Initially, he is frightened for his family, for his life, for his job. Ultimately, he has desensitised himself almost completely: he has learned not to think of those he is killing as people. Burnett's performance is impressive, especially in the many understated moments in which only his hands betray his emotion. Blythe Duff, as journalist Gitta Sereny, is also very strong: she puts horror into her performance but in such an understated way that the focus always remains with Burnett. The one exception to this, when we really are allowed to see her reaction, is profoundly moving partly because she hasn't shown it before.

In all, this is an extremely disturbing, thoughtful piece of theatre which balances the need for faithful representation with the requirements of live performance well.

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Blythe Duff and Cliff Burnett star in a chilling and shocking, yet vital, dramatisation of interviews with a convicted Nazi war criminal.

SS-Obersturmführer Franz Stangl oversaw the deaths of nearly one million people in Nazi extermination camps.

Following his conviction for the murders in 1970, historian, biographer and journalist Gitta Sereny interviewed Stangl to understand how an individual rationalises their actions in the face of a crime of such magnitude. This is the dramatisation of those chilling and harrowing interviews.

Shocking and disturbing yet vital, Into That Darkness looks into the very heart of evil and asks how, 70 years after the end of the Second World War, we can prevent atrocities of this scale from happening again.

Writer Robert David MacDonald was one of the three artistic leaders of the Citizens Theatre from 1971 – 2003 during the period when the Citizens first became famous around the world for innovative productions of classic texts and challenging new works.

Directed by Gareth Nicholls, Main Stage Director in Residence.