first night

Incident At Vichy

Rachel Knott enjoys "Incident At Vichy" in Normal Chapel, Castle




Any play about the Nazi occupation of France was going to be poignant, but this one is especially so, as it asks the question: ‘Why was there so little resistance to the persecution of Jews in the Holocaust?’Combine that with the intense setting of the Norman chapel, and you really are faced with a challenging piece of theatre.


The play focuses on a group of people waiting for their documents to be checked by German officers, as they are believed to be Jews and have been rounded up of the streets of France. One by one, the detainees are lead away, for a ‘routine inspection,’ and we see how the ever shrinking numbers put the pieces together and realise their fate – inside a concentration camp.


 Despite the constraints of such a small performing space, Durham University Productions managed to make it work, letting us glimpse in on a waiting room with people of all walks of life and background, confined within the dramatic pillars and stonework of the chapel. Little set and few props were used, but they were hardly necessary when the dialogue was so engaging. Lighting was simplistic but atmospheric, which was sufficient to stage people fighting to stay alive.


Naturally this was a serious piece, but with a variety of characters there was someone for everyone to engage with. Performances were strong, noticeable from Kieran E. Simms as Bayard, Ben Salter as Von Berg and Alex Bhat as Leduc, but as a whole the cast worked well as a company.


Without an interval it was a short play but this only added to the intensity, as we were fully immersed in a continual piece of action. I believe that the play lends itself to being played in the round, with the audience surrounding the action, as it only emphasises the helplessness of the characters involved. I was also impressed how the pillars of the Norman chapel didn’t appear to obstruct the action too much, which was achieved through careful and effective staging.


Miller’s play is something special in itself, challenging the way humans are able to convince themselves that things are never as bad as they seem, and the indifference many people expressed at the death of innocent people at that time. It also gives the events of that time an almost timeless quality, with one of the officers struggling with the facts almost as much as the victims themselves. We are also reminded that every nation has its ‘Jews’ (meaning here people that we, without a valid reason, blame our misfortunes on).


My only criticism would be that it was sometimes hard to identify each character, especially at the start, but this is a fault with the play itself more than anything else, as there are very few times when Miller uses character names in the dialogue.


All in all, a challenging but enjoyable piece of theatre.





Rachel Knott




16 November 2009

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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