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CYMQjCLWkAAG5ccDirector Phil Willmott has brought another challenging piece of Theatre to the Union Theatre stage, with his production of Brecht’s Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, using a translation by John Willett. In his production, Willmott has chosen to present every scene, and makes a comment in his programme notes that ‘We can find no record or a professional production of the full cycle in the UK although several reliable sources claim they’ve seen one.’ The episodic style of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich is held together by an undercurrent of fear and through the audience’s hindsight, an uncomfortable knowledge of what comes next. The whole cast do well to generate this feeling of fear and discomfort, which is a necessary part of a play that has more similarities to our twenty-first century world than we might want to acknowledge.

Each vignette has a poignancy to it and layers of fear, patriotism, hatred, love and hope. One of the most effective devices in this production is the use of silence; stilted, faltering, fear-laden silence between families and friends who no longer know what to say to each other because everything they say could be misconstrued and lead to their death. The most startling scene is a conversation between Wife (Clara Francis) and Husband (Phil Willmott) after their son, Klaus Heinrich (Joe Dowling), has left the room. They cannot remember when he left, what he has overheard and as he is in the Hitler Youth, they deliberate over what ramifications their conversation could have for them. The whirlwind of doubt, fear and mistrust in their own son – which rises from a niggle to full scale panic within minutes – is terrifying, all the more so when you remember it’s based on truth not fiction.

As Willmott notes, we now know far more about the actions of the Nazi party than Brecht did at the time of writing Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, and it is the additional layer of hindsight that the audience brings with them that really gives this production an edge and resonance.  

Leaving aside what you do or don’t know about Brecht, to experience Fear and Misery of the Third Reich you just need to be willing to acknowledge your human empathy and take each character as a representation of all of the mothers, wives, husbands, fathers, sons, daughters, friends, colleagues, soldiers, dictators in the world.

Willmott has assembled a talented cast who come together to portray some of the best and worst human moments. It is not an easy production to watch due to the subject matter, but it is performed well throughout and evokes thought, which all theatre should do.

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By Emily Jones

6th – 30th January 2016
The Union Theatre, London, SE1 0LX.

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