Brighton Fringe 2007
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen
Festival: Brighton Fringe
A rich, if deeply uncomfortable seam of human history with real life accounts of the Nazi’s concentration and labour camps set in musical format.
There’s no doubt that Bill Smith has hit upon a rich, if deeply uncomfortable seam of human history with real life accounts of the Nazi’s concentration and labour camps. There’s also no doubt that he’s been fantastically brave setting them to music, there’s some tremendous songs, influenced by a heady mix of Jewish klezmer, eastern Europe and the West End which are beautifully orchestrated by Dominic Nunns and played by the aptly named Life and Death Orchestra supported by The Rainbow Chorus.
The problem is that This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen doesn’t work as a musical in development and that’s really frustrating because are there moments when you can glimpse it’s astounding potential, moments when it’s clash of horror and humor really gel, such as in the song Never Again and also because you really want it to work.
One such moment is the title song finely delivered by Seth Morgan. It tells the chilling account of Kapo, a Auschwitz prisoner forced to work amongst the relentless slaughter in the gas chambers, an extraordinary and powerful song that captures the unbearable – yet better than death – awfulness of one man’s story whilst reminding us of man’s terrible and latent inhumanity that resonates across centuries and across the world. It certainly hits the spot.
However, unconvinced that we will understand this, Bill and his co-writers bring on a modern day refugee from Darfour, and then, just to be completely sure we haven’t missed the point they suspend any drama happening on stage to recite a long list of world wide atrocities, by the time we get to the Chinese involvement in contemporary Africa I had lost sight of Kapo.
There’s also stories from a poet, a revolutionary and the painter Arnold Daghani – played by the fine voiced and versatile Guy Picot, who survives everyone else in his camp by decorating the commandants house. They are all remarkable stories that shout out to be told today but they are let down by a lack of cohesive dramatic plot, by too many under developed characters, by a messy and continually broken form: most often by intrusive agit-prop and by the seeming complete absence of professional direction.
It’s interesting that the three quarters of the stage is filled with the orchestra and the chorus, suggesting that this is where the development has been invested to date and, on the whole, the songs really are great. What this show needs now, in my opinion, is to give the same attention to the staging, to employ a full time writer and engage an experienced musical theatre director to share and realise the vision. I really hope This Way for the Gas… does this because this is a show with tremendous unrealised potential and I for one would really like to see it heading off on a world tour.