In Quest of Conscience: History lost in Translation @Finborough Theatre – 2*

by J. Cavanagh

In Quest of Conscience brings the interviews of extermination camp Nazi Commandant Franz Stangl to the stage.   An intriguing, devastating subject matter yet Gitta Sereny’s interviews, so real on paper, translate poorly to the “boards”.

The four-piece production, made up of Stangl (Martin Buchan), Sereny (Phillipa Peak) plus a male and female chorus (Patrick Knowles & Siubhan Harrison,) fails to augment the text in this adaptation. Stangl’s reflections on his time in command of Sobibor and Treblinka come across as impersonal.  Buchan and Peak do their best to channel their characters but their efforts come across as “acted” and at times under-rehearsed.

The simple set with the leads in conversation across a table from each other in the Dusseldorf jail following Stangl’s extradition from Brazil could provide a stark contrasting backdrop for strong emotion.  The chorus re-enact scenes from Stangls’ past re-creating third party memories: his wife in interview, a priest, a daughter, etc.  The chorus is an effective tool – accent challenges aside – and the play would benefit from Stangl interacting with his revisited past. The chorus, Knowles in particular, energises proceedings but more is required to bring this death laden play to life and connect us to the horrors committed and rationalised by this man.

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London, UK, SW10 9ED
http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/

Sundays & Mondays until 28 June 2011

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes including interval

Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd: 50 Years for a London Premiere @ The Finborough Theatre – 3.5

The Finborough, a sure bet for fringe theatre, currently delivers top drawer musical enjoyment with a revival of “Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd”.

Beamish (left) & Ashforde (right) in The Roar of The Greasepaint, The Smell of The Crowd - The Finborough Theatre

Set in the smallest Big Top I’ve ever seen the story is ultimately one of class struggle between the portly officious “Sir” (Oliver Beamish) and the threadbare hungry-eyed “Cocky” (Matthew Ashforde). These two are engaged in an absurd game of hopscotch with ever-changing rules to ensure the upper-hand of the upper-class.  The competition is followed throughout by a chorus of “urchins” part-mice, part-Pierrot who provide dazzling support for whichever player takes the lead.

The 60’s original never gathered the UK momentum required for a West-End run but instead was exported straight to Broadway where the class tale and setting translated as a huge success for its resonance with the struggles of the great depression.  Undeniably dated, stereotypical comedic fodder is provided briefly by “The Negro” a caricature with little more than a hayseed stance and guffaw.  Nice then that Terry Doe, assuming this small role, stunned the room with his show-stopping delivery of “Feeling Good”.

The true standout performance of the evening is delivered by Matthew Ashforde who takes on “Cocky” with gutsy relentlessness. As engaged with the audience as his fellow cast members he embodies the painful trials and pathetic triumphs of this role. His eye-catching panache brings to the production a magnetic pull that kept us drawn to the storyline of reinvention and hurdles.

Superior numbers, tight performances and terrific choreography elevate the night’s entertainment.  The cast deliver with such vivacity that from the very outset we were captivated.  The chorus of singing and dancing urchins outdo themselves with exuberant routines in a set that can barely contain them.  Hoots of hilarity and shouts of bravo echo after each number proving this production a delightful, rollicking evening with an entertainment value exceeding many despite the half-century wait for its London opening.

Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
London, UK, SW10 9ED
http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/

Until 2 July 2011

2 hours including intermission.