What is one to make of the accomplished NIDA graduate’s new play, the opening night of which was met with thunderous applause and a curtain-call?
Well-played (notwithstanding very uneven diction) and with possibly the most devastatingly effective stage and sound design I’ve ever seen, it tells the tale of three Hitler Youth (8, 12 & 12), trapped in a sewer, at the end of WWII. While touted as ‘a timely exploration of the effect of nationalism on the young’, let me be the first to confess, I don’t get it.
Indeed, I’d the distinct impression the loud acclamation was an en masse cover for the fact many others found themselves down the same drain; one as in-the-dark as the freezing, rat-infested Berlin bunker occupied by the adults-playing-boys.
Such behaviour is, of course, chillingly redolent of Nuremberg and all its affectations. But that is merely to review the audience of critics, family and hangers-on.
I must say I’m not sure I see that this is in any real way timely. In fact, my companion and I were discussing how much we felt the opposite to be the case. Sure, one could draw parallel with the brainwashed nationalism of, say, Palestinian youth, I suppose; but it’s a longish bow. I don’t know that our long-suffering world has seen nationalism of the ilk depicted here, before, or since; and almost certainly not since.
The effects on youth? Well, yes, one must have compassion for any ‘under-age’ persons trapped in a ‘grown-up’ war; let alone the spectre of child soldiers. But, personally, I find it a whole lot easier to muster sympathy for those who narrowly escaped, say, the holocaust, than the children of its perpetrators. Which isn’t to say the upcoming generation deserved, or deserve condemnation (unless they still harbour the venomous views of their forebears) or punishment; but you see my point.
So what were we supposed to feel, Tobes? And why?
It seems as though Toby has read some book, or other, of late, which has inspired this outing. Mein Kampf, perhaps, since the attendant blurb quotes Schiklgruber himself: 'A violently active, dominating, intrepid youth: that is what I am after; indifferent to pain.' Clearly, der Fuhrer realised his aspiration, in substantial measure; these youth, however sensitive to their own pain, weren’t necessarily sensitized to that of others. Confused? Yes. Suffering? Yes. Doomed? Yes. But what was this, in relation to the generations of pain inflicted by their people?
Schmitz is fond, too, of quoting ‘Rule One: Your body belongs to your nation’. Obviously, this embodies the central motif, but it’s subject to rather patronizing, heavyhanded & redundant repetition.
In Berlin, on May 4, 1945, these boys are awakening to the fact that the game they were engaged in just a few weeks ago, which lends the play its title, is being played-out for real, in the streets above their manhole.
Unknown to them, the horrors are almost at an end, with occupation imminent. They are now alive to the lies they’ve been spoonfed and swallowed willingly, or otherwise, if not enthusiastically. But the real tragedy is as above. When will these kids be alive to others’ pain? Have their horizons, by dint of National Socialist ‘education’, been made to stop at the fatherland’s borders? The Hitler Youth anthem, to some extent, at least, even now, at the eleventh hour, seems to ring in their ears and, worse still, resonate in their hearts and minds: ‘Our flag is more to us than death.’ Then again, it’s all they know (or so we’re instructed to believe) and all they have left.
There is no more virulently vocal opponent of any leaning towards bigotry and right-wing neoconservatism than I, but to parallel the admittedly pathetic attitudes of our own feds with the pernicious extent of Hitler’s will be, I think, to many who survived them, and others, deeply offensive, as it tends to trivialize, belittle and exploit the immensity of their endurance, reducing it to some sort of commodity more befitting an hysterical reality televisual bent. Well, intentioned naivety is becoming exhausting for this reviewer.
This play, regardless of its strong direction, taut performances and its powerful visual and sonic spectacularity, is way too didactic. I, for one, have never bought the glibness of the Jesuit proverb, ‘Give me a child until he’s seven, and I’ll give you the man’, which says, incidentally, as much about Jesuit ed as Nazi. This allows no possibility of the redemption Schmitzy wants us to endow. Moreover, I’ve always gagged on the ‘we didn’t know’ defence; and still do. Even these boys can see the cracks in their indoctrination and have witnessed indignities. They know. But they’re afraid.
Yes, Toby, it’s wrong to impose political ‘ideals’ upon children. I think we all know that.
I might well be ostracized from in-crowd camaraderie in putting the jackboot into TS’s newest. After all, he is a Patrick White Award-winning playwright (Chicks will Dig You; Lucky, Cünt Pi). But, ironically, for mine, it’s his directorial debut (with his own work, at least) that impresses, on this occasion; not his writing.
The cast is, indeed, fine, even if it took my companion & I the best part of the play to get that these young actors are playing much younger characters - Robin Goldsworthy (Lord of the Flies); Sam North (Work in Progress); Anthony Gee (2006 NIDA graduate) and Ella Scott-Lynch (Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset).]
But, again, principal plaudits must go to the rest of the team, behind the scenes, which has surpassed itself: design, Leland Kean (Cünt Pi, Thrall); costume, Lisa Walpole (To the Green Fields and Beyond); lighting, the inescapable Luiz Pampolha (Thrall, The Nightwatchman) and sound, Jeremy Silver (Ying Tong, Gates of Egypt).
TRS Theatre Co. presents the World Premiere of
CAPTURE THE FLAG
by Toby Schmitz
Venue: The Old Fitzroy Theatre | Cnr Cathedral & Dowling Sts, Woolloomooloo.
Dates: 9th May – 2nd June 2007
Times: Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm & Sunday @ 5pm
Opening: Tue 15th May 8pm - (Invitation only)
Preview: 9th – 12th May , 8pm and 13th May, 5pm - $16
Tickets: $20 Concession, $28 Adult, $34 Beer, Laksa & Show; Special: Cheap Tuesdays - $16 Adult, $24 Beer Laksa & Show
Bookings: (02) 9294 4296 or www.oldfitzroy.com.au