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Brighton Year-Round 2023

This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

Bill Smith, Angi Mariano, Bim Sinclair, Julian Tarbo, Guy Picot, Herbie Flowers

Genre: Adaptation, Biographical Drama, Contemporary, Drama, European Theatre, Fringe Theatre, Historical, International, Live Music, Musical Theatre, New Writing, Storytelling, Theatre, Tragedy, Translation

Venue: Latest 7 Music Bar


Low Down

Based on the writing of poet Tadeusz Borowski and the paintings of Arnold Daghani This Way For The Gas bears explosive witness to their work by Borowski, Paul Celan and Primo Levi that has shaped the pulse of that post-Holocaust world. By extending it as a musical now taking in Ukraine and Darfur, and with an international cast of six Ukrainians and a Lithuanian, Bill Smith, Angi Mariano and their colleagues have wrought an enormous service. In the last great reprise of ‘Never’ we realise we’re seeing the finale of an emerging masterpiece.

Written by Bill Smith, Angi Mariani, Bim Sinclair, Julian Tardo and Herbie Flowers, Additional words by Guy Picot, Directed by Smith and co-directed by Nataliya Valda. Set and Marketing Design Andrew Kay, Set Build Mandy at Fabricate, Technical Supervisor Chris Daniels.

With The Life & Death Orchestra led by Oscar Piatt with the dance company Ukraine Modern.

Formed back in 1996 to work on the original production of This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, over the years it has included an amazing and eclectic range of creatives including Angi Mariani (AKA Eminemmylou), Bim Sinclair, Herbie Flowers, Nick Pynn, Tom Arnold, Robert Taylor, Ian Hamer, Guy Picot, Seth Morgan, Julian Tardo and many others. This new production builds on the work of this collective.

Further performances tba


Auschwitz the Musical? Poland 1941. Darfur 2011. Ukraine 2022. Bill Smith’s and Angi Mariani’s This Way For The Gas Ladies and Gentlemen with six songs written (and co-written) by Bim Sinclair and Julian Tardo, returns to the Latest Music Bar. This is its latest version from beginnings in 1996.

It’s co-directed by Smith and Nataliya Valda with Andrew Kay’s set design with an absorbing video-projection of images taken from one of the two main subjects here: painter Arnold Daghani. There’s piano accompaniment and music direction by cast-member Oscar Piatt.

Because of its importance, what follows is an account in sub-sections, with specific appraisal of this version, and cultural context.


This Way For the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen Act One

With a cast of seven women, four men and child, the Latest upstairs set proves remarkably versatile. Starting at 2001 Edinburgh Fringe and invited to Auschwitz This Way now takes on Smith’s new arrangements and a harrowing topicality.

With a six-strong Ukraine cast, one from Lithuania and four British the witness is immediate, the slaughter ongoing. We’re following a line where genocide rears again.

Based on Tadeusz Borowski’s memoir it’s a testament of survival. Polish-born Borowski’s known here in the Penguin Modem European Poets series.

Played with towering authority by Art O’Hara, Borowski’s witness is twinned in the first act by the works of painter Arnold Daghani, Holocaust survivor, later Hove resident. His works flicker across the backdrop video alternating with photographs.

Poland is where both the Jewish population of three million and many   non-Jewish Poles faced extermination. From 1939, universities or Polish culture of any kind was forbidden.

Expressed as cabaret there’s a young underground of defiance and learning, taught by renowned professors risking their lives: “Nothing Like Love” from ‘Love in a Cold World’  tops-and-tails a clubbing tryst at The Essentialist Club: ‘Friendship Poetry Learning Laughter Love.’

Tenor Igor Grohotsky takes up the Essentialist refrain of ‘Us Two’: “making love like the first couple on earth/.And we were beautiful, naked and wild,/and both dead.” It’s a gentle lyric interlude with memorable lyrics and haunting melodies. The material’s absorbing enough not to wish this hurried; you accept the insistent rhythms.

After a brace of songs full of foreboding a Nazi (played by pianist Oscar Piatt) tells Borowski they have his fiancée. Maria’s played with consummate edge and pathos by Temesis Conway, who sings several songs including ‘Love in a Cold World’ and (like Grohotsky) ‘Us Two’.

In Rumania, Piatt’s Nazi guard at least instructs Rumanian Arnold Daghani (Igor Grohotsky)  to bring his paints. It might get him a good job. “Good advice” wife Nanino Daghani (Lithuanian Viktorija Faith, also soprano) tells him.

The couple don’t go to Borowski’s Auschwitz but the small, still-unrecognized camp Mikhailovka in Ukraine as 450 slave labourers build an SS road. Stories zero in from across Europe as Jews and non-Jews like Borowski were rounded up.

Most poems set are Bronowski’s (with others from great poets Czeslaw Milosz, Miroslav Holub, Zbigniew Herbert) but there’s a startling addition.

We’re into Todesfuge Paul Celan’s great 1952 poem of the death of his parents – Celan himself only just survived. “Death is a Master From Germany.” It’s the best-known post-war German poem.

Riffing on this “Death is a Master from Moscow” recalls the massacre of Poles on the Soviet side of the divide the Soviets and the Nazis agree on in 1939. This isn’t entirely made clear as we move into a range of stories.

Borowski survives assisting death: a bleak collaboration. To Piatt’s piano accompaniment Borowski narrates the title song directly, rising to a litanic expressiveness. To Daghani’s images of the camps now scumbling across Borowski narrates diurnal evils include the Zyklon-bearing wagon.

A blonde girl asks “what will happen to us?” He doesn’t answer. “I know” she says. Borowski clears out bodies of children. But what affects him is a man’s grasp. This iteration of the memoir in Sprachtspiel. Heightened speech is set against the refrain “This Way For the Gas” which resolves into a stark solo dance.

‘Pigtail’ sung by Conway is a devastating lyric on the cut hair of children:


In a huge chest

clouds of dry hair

of those suffocated

and a faded plait

a pigtail with a ribbon

pulled at school

by naughty boys

The women relate how children were hurled into the air for target practice. And how the west could have bombed tracks and camps and never did. The burden of this falls in the Soviets who wouldn’t allow allied bombers to refuel within range, during for instance the Warsaw Uprising (had Borowski not been arrested, he’d have died in that).

It’s not easy unless you’re alert to realise we’re in different camps. At least initially. Daghani gets away with painting the Kommandant’s house and not an imagined load of bread he’s taunted with by Piatt. But people aren’t gassed there. Just worked to death. Daghani (Grohotsky is also the key make vocalist, remarkably with very little English) is also accompanied by Nanino (Faith) the equally arresting second female vocalist as Daghani’s charcoal and semi-abstract paintings scroll past.

They were the sole survivors. “450 died for a beautiful drawing.” The little camp wasn’t recognised: too few died there in 1943. They call a litany of the dead to a sketch of one of them.

The tempo shifts briefly in a stomping number to a strong threnody. A photograph of the camp looms over the six-strong cast at this point.

The original ‘Missing’ returns (Andrea Barker sings in a powerful mezzo) referencing Darfur. Ukraine’s also referenced before the interval. “Be happy you who’ve come to see our theatre of genocide.”


Act Two

After the interval the action moves back to Darfur with the vocalist taking up the same refrain of “Where Are You?”

A brief, explosive testament of February 24th 2022 is followed by Borowski’s reunion with his fiancée.

The second briefer act is filled with provisional hope. Darfur and post-conflict songs of love and healing. ‘Come Here My Love’ is particularly strong.

Borowski and Maria reflect: “I am 24 led to slaughter but I survived” and “how do you tell the living to remember we who are dead?” with the undertow as Borowski claimed: “Before the war I was a writer. After the war I was a Holocaust poet. A dead man talking.”

The work here sashays between posy-Holocaust and Ukraine witness. While this pulls focus from the core narrative it’s impossible not to feel this show rightly reflects atrocities in Ukraine. “Herod is the father of us all” is a beautiful, terrible chorus with Ukraine placards now repurposed to 2023.

To have pulled together this production with a largely non-English speaking cast is remarkable.

“How can we write knowing what we know?” Bronowski answers with a hard-edged lyric irony to the refrain “the moon shone”. Borowski and his wife Maria initially look forward to a bright communism with chicken farm and bookshop, in “Us Too’ with its haunting “We were beautiful” refrain.

But Bronowski discovered the Soviet atrocity of Katyn Wood. He makes a terrible decision left with insurmountable guilt. Love is “like human smoke in the wind”. “Man is a flower that should be burnt.” O’Hara’s is a terrific climactic performance. Gradually the two other narratives are stranded in to a backbeat. Redemptive strands overcome the ‘Gloomy Monday’ dirge. But not everyone can endure their posthumous existence.


This Production

Beyond O’Hara, Conway, Grohotsky, Piatt, Faith and Barker, the cast is completed by Jacob Fulton as Stan, the fixer, and Ana Petrenko as Ana, another inmate, both well-taken in small roles.  Three young women from Ukraine Modern dance company are lamentably unnamed. Veronika Holenko, aged eleven completes a remarkable cast.

This Way is open to almost limitless development, with a touch more pace. There’ll be production options. What to select in upcoming productions; what supersede, what update.

There’s an overwhelming case for just the original Holocaust work to be presented. This Way will always evolve, taking in the latest atrocity. Twelve on stage is handled well, though can distract – particularly in solo performances.

In context the dancers add expressivity – they’re extremely fine and watchable in themselves. Dramatically they can inhibit elements not centred around Ukraine or Darfur – a section Barker almost alone has to sustain with great presence with only a backstory; and Barker’s vocals to remind us of the word’s absence.

Not including the dancers might be impossible here, particularly with a Ukraine cast acting with such raw intensity and consummate sense of theatre. “We hand you the nails. You hammer them in.”

In the last great reprise of ‘Never’ we realise we’re seeing the finale of an emerging masterpiece.


Cultural Context

We know the Auschwitz composers: Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krasa, Pavel Haas, Gideon Klein, and others being rediscovered: Ilse Weber, Leo Smitt, Marcel Tyburg. Ullmann’s pre-war children’s opera Brundebar and camp-banned Das Konig der Atlantis have justly reaffirmed one tradition.

But it was refugee American-based Erich Zeisl’s Requiem Ebraico which first chronicled a strange singspiel now recorded and recognised as the first testament by a non-survivor. Smith’s, Mariani’s and Sinclair’s composition of songs in contemporary musicals-mode stands squarely in this tradition.

Theodore Adorno was mistranslated when he famously said after Auschwitz poetry can’t be written (he said “it’s barbarous”). He meant specifically lyric – Gedichte – poetry. He also later revised this in the light of nuclear annihilation, roughly: “After the end of the world we find art can chronicle our unconscious existence…. perennial suffering has as much right to expression as the tortured have to scream.”


Borowski and Celan amongst many others bear explosive witness; and their work has shaped the pulse of that post-Holocaust world. By extending it Smith and his colleagues have wrought an enormous service.