EFR - Reviews of God on Trial

God on Trial

Wed 30th July – Sat 16th August 2014

reviews

Georgina Wilson

at 10:18 on 2nd Aug 2014

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“Murder, collaboration and more fucking murder”. That’s what God is on trial for in the 6 foot space that becomes a concentration camp for a grisly hour of our evening. The squashed 12 strong cast really hammers up the intensity of the interaction, although a couple more people and you would struggle to fit them all on stage.

The premise of the play is as foreboding as its title. Donned in identical Boy-in-striped-pyjamas-esque costumes, the concentration camp victims debate whether God has broken the “covenant” of the Torah in allowing the suffering of the Second World War. The play mostly consists of harrowing monologues, each time promising to deliver the final blow of philosophy-in-action but each time usurped by yet another harrowing story of misery, a desperate attempt at rationalisation, or breathy exhortions of the Torah.

This isn’t to say that I was bored, or waiting for the show to end. The actual ending, when it came, delivered all that was promised by the lead up; the audience was reduced to stillness when the cast trouped out the doors for the last time without even taking a bow. There was even the odd moment of black humour: apparently a God who is impersonal can be equated to “the weather”, and the bold mixture of adult language with prayers and scriptural quotes drew the beginnings of a nervous chuckle from many an audience member.

What could have turned into a continuous stream of dialogue was punctuated by the arrival of a man in a white coat – the stereotypical image of sanitised horror – screechy violins and the unnerving snip-snap of scissors cutting the hair of the imprisoned men and women. The doctor bore his fleeting moments of power with convincing gusto and a horrific disregard of the suffering before him.

There are no answers to the questions put before this trial – but we were never really expecting them. Come to this play for the reason you’d go to a compelling spoken work performance, or even listen to a radio play. It isn’t really about the visuals or the lighting or the sound (though the subtle uses of both are effective). It’s about the humanity of philosophical dialogue, the worry that “God has not ever been good he has simply been strong”, and the acknowledgement that their faith is all the persecuted have left of themselves.

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Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 11:29 on 2nd Aug 2014

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This compelling and provocative play is as darkly intense as its title would have you believe. In the harsh, harrowing world of a Nazi concentration camp, facing the grim prospect of a completely arbitrary death, a group of Jewish prisoners turn on the deity in whom they previously had so much trust. As they form their own court in which to hash out the intricacies of the covenant they made with God, and to decide whether He is guilty of breaking it, the audience are faced with the glaring facts of religion and life, and confront the extent and power of faith.

Clearly tackling this would be a huge challenge for any drama group, let alone a group of young students. The play is full of big intellectual and philosophical questions and deals with a harrowing setting and distressing scenes of violence, despair and desperation. If nothing else, the play studies the dynamics between characters: a conglomeration of people that have been aggressively and randomly thrown together in horrific circumstances who interact and bond with each other as they each explore their faith, either finding it or losing it. The human element came across very strongly, especially through the occasional injection of wry, satirical humour.

This play was performed in the round, in a tiny, intimate theatre, which only added to the intense physicality of the performance. As an audience we were therefore intensely involved, and felt like part of the court, suffering in the camp alongside them. The characters were actively surrounded by the audience, penned in on all sides in an almost meta-theatrical imitation of the confined, stifling nature of the camps.

This young cast acted as a close-knit, well-rehearsed unit, and the show was full of standout actors and performances. The audience were drawn into the tragic plight of the characters, and felt thoroughly involved and captivated by the crisis of faith they experience. As we listened to each character’s stance on the issue of God’s guilt in a series of emotionally rousing monologues, we were drawn into each character’s plight in turn and felt genuine sympathy and horror at the stories they had to tell. From the softly spoken innocence of glove maker Ezra (Alexander Thompson) and the quiet anguish of bereft mother Liebel, (Sarah Mercer) to the eerily constant presence and violent outbursts of Bockaltester, (Carn Truscott) every member of the cast completely became their character.

Despite a slightly slow start and some rushed lines, this play was incredibly powerful and moving, and was very well handled by some great actors. A poignant ending of prayer, chanted in unison in the growing darkness, summed up a performance that, if nothing else, gave us food for thought.

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