I should have known from the start.
It’s a difficult play, both in its themes and in the rapidity of its dialogue
As we filed into the Theatre Box, we were greeted by a screen showing video clips of 1930s Germany, interspersed with title cards giving information about Hitler’s rise to power, Kristallnacht, and so on. The footage was sound tracked by Clint Mansell's hysterically overwrought score from Requiem For A Dream. Surely there’s no need to underline a historical atrocity with such a frenzied and clichéd piece of music. Unfortunately, this was a portent of things to come.
But! I must return to the facts, as Eichmann insists so often throughout the course of this play.
So, in 1960, Adolf Eichmann was discovered living undercover in Argentina. He was arrested and brought to Jerusalem to stand trial for the pivotal role he played in the extermination of the Jews during the Third Reich. His defence – that he was simply following orders – inspired Hannah Arendt’s concept of the ‘banality of evil’, which suggests that the majority of men who carry out heinous crimes against humanity are dutiful functionaries, rather than ideological psychopaths.
The nature of evil. Guilt and responsibility. History and heritage. These are the issues at stake in Donald Freed’s two hander, performed here by Steve Scott as Eichmann and Heather Alexander as the Israeli psychologist Dr. Baum, who is conducting his pre-trial hearing. The two of them query, debate, and argue through the duration of the play, and whatever else you can say about this production, it is certainly not banal.
One of the first questions Dr. Baum puts to Eichmann is how he managed to rise so quickly through the ranks of the Nazi hierarchy. ‘A comedy of errors’, is Eichmann’s rueful answer, and this phrase seems to sum up the play itself. Quite aside from the variety of technical mishaps and flubbing of lines that occurred throughout, the script itself includes some unforgivable blunders. An ill-advised joke mixing up an ‘aerial photograph of Auschwitz’ with an ‘early photograph of Auschwitz’ falls flat, while the bad taste that filled my mouth when a large, blown-up photograph of real concentration camp victims was brought onstage soured even further when this photograph of emaciated children later became the basis of a melodramatic plot twist.
Yet, for all these faults, Bootcamp Theatre should be commended for the ambition of this production. It’s a difficult play, both in its themes and in the rapidity of its dialogue, and these difficulties are tackled gamely by the two actors. Steve Scott, in particular, captures Eichmann’s recalcitrant smugness.
However, those interested in truly investigating the concept of the banality of evil are advised to stay home with Hannah Arendt’s book; Requiem for a Dream soundtrack optional.