March 16, 2013

Holocaust horrors amplified

March 13 , 2013
Adelaide Festival

Created by Herman Helle, Pauline Kalker and
Arlene Hoornweg .
Hotel Modern
The Space, Adelaide Festival Centre.
March 12. Tickets $ 30 – $ 59
Bookings : BASS 131 246 or
Until March 17.

It is part of the tragedy of modern times that we can know about catastrophic events but still not fathom them. We are told the statistics from the two World Wars, for instance, soldier and civilian fatalities in the tens of millions. They represent terrible events, they gnaw at our sense of our own humanity. But the problem remains – their scale is unimaginable.

In their unexpectedly compelling stage work, Kamp, Netherlands company Hotel Modern has found an innovative way to give perspective and comprehension to the systematic atrocities in the Nazi extermination camps, set up and operated in Poland from 1942 to 1945. The most notorious, Auschwitz-Birkenau, is the model for Kamp.

And it is literally a model. Every detail of the layout of this evil facility is carefully replicated in tiny scale, including 3000 miniature figurines depicting the guards and prisoners. Across the whole stage we see the barracks, the gas chambers, the crematoria, the parade areas and the terrifying maw at the main gate where the trains, crammed with new victims, steam through, greeted by the camp’s cruelly macabre motto – Arbeit macht frei (work makes you free).

Operated with exquisite precision by performers, Maartje Van Den Brink, Menno Vroon and Trudi Klever, these miniscule objects – carts, trucks, work parties, gallows and so on – are filmed with a camera probe and projected on to a screen at the back of the stage. It is like watching a grainy newsreel, an animated documentary of the daily routine of a mechanized death factory.

The sound design by Ruud Van der Pluijm is crucial to the riveting success of this production. From the disturbing normality of the dawn chorus to the thunderous roar of the trains, the sound is magnified and enveloping. When a prisoner collapses and is beaten by a guard, the almost interminable bludgeoning is amplified with terrifying consequence.

Everything in Kamp has a re-sensitising effect; every minute detail illustrating the moral enormity of the crime. As the camera slowly pans the groups of prisoners in close-up, the faces – seemingly just rudimentary eyes and open mouths pressed in little dollops of pale plasticine – take on poignant individuality.

The general effect is of Munch’s famous image of The Scream, but Kamp’s creators Herman Helle, Pauline Kalker and Arlene Hoornweg, remind us that everyone here, including every guard, is a human being – in a vortex of such cruelty and suffering, that their mouths, like those in the audience, are gaping in disbelief.

Murray Bramwell

“Holocaust horrors amplified” The Australian, March 15, 2013, p.14

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