With horrific events occurring around the world, The White Factory at The Marylebone Theatre, written by Dmitry Glukhovsky’s and directed by Maxim Didenko comes as a poignant reminder of the misery and conflict that individuals and nations have visited upon each other. As Russian Jews who are political exiles and vehemently outspoken critics of Putin and the war against Ukraine, these two men bring intimate experience to the subject of this gripping tragedy.
A deeply moving and profoundly thought-provoking drama
Set over several decades, The White Factory explores the life of Yosef Kaufman (Mark Quartley). Unlike his wife Rivka (Pearl Chanda) and their children, who were sent away on a train never to return, he survived the holocaust in the Polish city of Lodz. As he tries to build a future with his new family in 1960’s Brooklyn, he is haunted by his wartime experiences and relives the torment of decisions he was forced to take. Quartley captures that torment and anguish in the many situations that beset him with his family and the authorities. He’s matched by Chanda who as his wife, a mother and a daughter captures the struggles of holding a family together. They have two young boys whose innocence is delightfully played out by two pairings of either Paul-Hector Antoine and Aron Yacobi as Hector or Leo Franky and Lucas Allermann as Volf. Meanwhile. Adrian Schiller as their grandfather, meanwhile, embodies the tiredness of an old man who has been through too much in life to have to face what is happening now.
Lodz enjoyed a special position amongst occupied cities in which the Jewish quarters were often simply ransacked and razed to the ground and its inhabitants sent to concentration camps. The Lodz ghetto became a manufacturing centre where buildings were converted to meet the ever-increasing demands of the German army. The eponymous workplace was a former Catholic church, its name coming from the white feather pillows the labourers made. The image is taken up in Galya Solodovnikova’s startling white-light geometric,sliding stadium frame with brilliant white interior in which the action takes place. It responds to the purity of lighting by Alex Musgrave and forms the perfect screen for Oleg Mikhailov’s projections. Julian Starr adds to the clinical setting with a subtly understated and softly haunting soundscape that has a plaintive piano motif repeated throughout. All elements of this production combine to create a deeply moving and profoundly thought-provoking drama.
The city's commandant is Wilhelm Koppe, forcefully and mercilessly played by James Garnon, often in a manner of someone who believes he is doing good. he places individuals and community leaders in an unenviable position. Is it a betrayal of your people if you join the Ghetto police, so that at least they they are under the supervision of their own? Should Chaim Rumkowski (also played by Adrian Schiller) have accepted the appointment as Elder and become part of the Nazi machine? At least he can speak in an official capacity to both sides even if he has no freedom to decide the ultimate message. Does his respectability make him any less a collaborator when he is trying to make up the ever-rising numbers for deportation to the camps in order to meet targets set by his masters? Would the alternatives be even worse than what they currently have? At least for now some are still living. Schiller embodies all these questionings and the associated rationalisations of his position as a man simply doing what he thinks best and dealing with the consequences.
In the hushed atmosphere of the auditorium created by this chilling scenario we are left to reflect. Can we ever be so bold as to condemn or judge the actions of those placed in impossible situations of which we have no experience and that defy imagination? Can we ever trust those in authority to stand by their word and do as they promise? Where would we stand and what we do if confronted by anything similar? The play has enough issues to stoke the fires of debate for far longer than just the journey home.