Way to Heaven at the P.A.C.

January 9, 2014

Artists willing to take on subjects as weighty as the holocaust seem to avail of an unspoken critical boon. So long as they pay the subject perceived reverence other areas of the production are spared any squinty-eyed scrutiny. Much talk has centered on Rosemary McKenna’s staging of Juan Mayorga’s Way to Heaven and how it makes us consider the responsibility an individual takes for their role in historical events.

From three different perspectives we are shown how the Nazis used theatrical devices to cover up the monstrous evil they perpetrated at Thereseinstadt concentration camp. The director illustrates the questions that echo throughout time as to how such a horror could be allowed to occur in a way that ensures that the writers sympathies and understanding- and the chilling meta-theatricality of the experiment, hit home.

But in ignoring how she puts her actors to use, critics fail their craft in the same way the Red Cross failed humanity by taking what was presented at face value and not questioning what lay beneath the facade.

The emphasis placed on words in the performers crisp, precise delivery help contextualise the realities of the time and place that affected the key characters (the duped inspector, the camp commandant and the mayor of the Jewish ‘resettlement’) for a modern audience, who often look back with the ignorance of knowledge.

Wandering through an overgrowth of microphones Daniel Reardon’s slow, deliberate delivery tells us how the Red Cross representative-who gave a glowing report, was haunted for the rest of his life by his failure to perceive what was going on, though he defiantly defends his actions against the damming judgment of time. “I could not invent what I had not seen”.

What’s unfortunate is how one note the tone of Reardon’s delivery is, his radio voice tells us what he saw but never expresses the effect looking back has on him.

Similarly Karl Quinn embraces a Panto villainy when it comes to the realisation of the Commandants frustrated artistic ambitions, bringing no subtlety or debt to a part that should show splutters of his concealed megalomania, wounded pride and murderous menace. His mincing turn means he’s more master of ceremonies than active participant which lessens the impact of the dark truth behind his characters devised vignettes that fooled the Red Cross into thinking that rumours about extermination, torture and human rights violations were false.

It’s not helped that opposite him, as a damaged Jew who must help stage manage the site specific farce, Will O Connell’s shell shock is played as near catatonia leading to a deadening chemistry between them, so at odds are the performers energies.

It is an actor’s responsibility to find the heart and soul in a writers words, to lift them from the page and make them soar with humanity. Here the primary cast appears not to have been directed-nor shown the initiative to do that, so it’s hard to see Way To Heaven as anything more than an illustrated history lesson.


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