Pros: The individual performances are outstanding in this gripping production.
Cons: It’s only 90-minutes long.
I was excited to return to the Finborough Theatre for one of Arthur Miller’s lesser known plays, Incident at Vichy. For those of you who haven’t been, it is a small but wonderfully creative space, set above a brilliant pub. As we took our seats, facing a minimalist white set, I felt that something special was about to unfold.
Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy is a 90-minute play set in 1942 Nazi-occupied France. The drama takes place in the waiting room of a police station, filled with men who have been pulled off the street, seemingly in a routine identity check. Once they identify a certain ‘Jewish’ commonality amongst them, they realise all might not be as it appears. As each one of them is called in to have his papers checked, most of them never to return, the characters reveal more of themselves. With the impending sense of doom, the group mentality becomes complex, toxic and, at times, touching.
A special mention must go to the simple and very effective set design by Georgia De Grey. The minimalist white stage is complemented by bright, stark lighting. This setting adds to the intensity of the men’s experience, waiting for their fate, sent off one by one.
Phil Wilmott’s direction is seamless. Moments of erupting fury puncture the balanced and considered script. The characters are wonderfully written by Miller, but also excellently executed by the actors. Each of them is outstanding in his own right. Lawrence Boothman opens the action with a well-conceived and perfectly executed performance as Lebeau, a Jewish painter. PK Taylor does a tremendous job of portraying Monceau, who rationalises everything and cannot possibly conceive that the Germans would use furnaces to burn people. This doesn’t make sense to him. But, as Von Berg observes, this is ‘their power. To do the inconceivable; it paralyzes the rest of us’. Von Berg, the philosophical Austrian prince who has been mistakenly arrested, is portrayed thoughtfully and sensitively by the brilliant Edward Killingback. Each actor characterises his own role in such a convincing and beautiful way. I wish I had space to mention them all.
What really sticks with me about this play is its terrifying relevance. Indeed, the overarching racial theme of the play is a universal one. At present, elements of Miller’s Incident at Vichy hold certain parallels with the treatment of Muslims and Mexicans in Trump’s America. The horror of the Holocaust will hopefully never be recreated on such a scale, but it begs the question, do we ever learn from historical atrocities? This production is a stark reminder of the terrible destruction of human life. It is also a warning of how easily this destruction is done, and more than that, it holds a beautiful morality within its lines. As Von Berg astutely observes “if you love your country, why is it necessary to hate other countries?” Perhaps more people need to ask themselves this question.
Written by: Arthur Miller
Directed by: Phil Willmott
Set Designer: Georgia de Grey
Lighting Designer: Robbie Butler
Sound Design and Music by: Theo Holloway
Costume Designer: Penn O’Gara
Booking link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2017/incident-at-vichy.php
Booking until: 22 April 2017