Team Review: Fear And Misery of The Third Reich

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich
By Bertolt Brecht


Review By Laura Thomas

Directed by Rachael Bellis
Produced by Aequitas Theatre
Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley, SE4
19th January to 3rd February

Fear And Misery of The Third Reich is a compelling production of one of Brecht’s less frequently seen works, linked vignettes showing the mannered politeness of the well-intentioned in the face of madness. The scenes lead us down the path taken by a once great nation, reduced in defeat to penury, as year by inexorable year, Germany embraced evil and called it destiny.

The excellent six-person cast each takes a variety of roles. Clark Alexander’s swaggering bully boy represented the brutal hubris of the Nazi culture. Around him revolve small tragedies. His wife, the capable LaTanya Peterkin, wants to buy her sister a new coat, only to find their joint savings spent on a pair of jackboots. The versatile William Ross-Fawcett, released from a concentration camp, visiting an old friend, is met with suspicion, thought to be an informer.

Director Bellis keeps the pace crisp and the tone light. Props are simple and effective, and staging in the round gives a sense of chilling intimacy.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich – Photo credit James Wordsworth

Hugo Trebels was superb as the teacher, he and Faye Maughan as his convincingly neurotic wife, terrified that their son was informing on them, and panicking about comments that the child might have overheard, before a rare comic twist. A worker daring to contradict the propaganda machine, is taken away, and returned to his family sealed in a zinc coffin, allegedly having died of pneumonia.
Rhiannon Sommers gave a nuanced performance of humour, grace and finally passion, as the exquisitely mannered Jewish wife saying goodbye to her friends, and then to her husband of ten years, the highlight of the night.

Finally, a Marxist cell, one of their number facing execution, cling onto hope, and print pamphlets, whilst the cheers of a victory rally echo all around.

The work is set in near-contemporary London, and the characters used the voices and mannerisms of the early 21st century. It was an effective juxtaposition, and the punch of the dialogue was enhanced by the familiarity of the setting.

But the use of clips from contemporary news sources was clumsy, and conflated every bete noir in zone two bohemia, externalised them and crudely bundled them with fascism, at the risk of trivialising the great evil that was. We all love a good pre-apocalyptic debauch; hooray, hooray, misery and dismay, as Noel Coward said in 1954, but the small truths that exist within the metropolitan millennial bubble are misleading, self-indulgent and, ultimately, obscure and divide.

With some super performances, smart direction and staging, this is a production that is well worth seeking out.

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