Writer and performer Stav Meishar spent five years researching the life of German circus artist Irene Danner-Storm. The touching story of her escape from the Nazi persecution is at the core of this hour-long intimate show, which combines storytelling, puppetry and circus arts.
Born within the “circus royalty” Lorch family, Irene trained as an acrobat since she was just a toddler, performing in Germany until Jews were banned from working. Public acts of hatred against the community rapidly escalated, reaching their most dramatic moments in 1938 with Kristallnacht, and then the mass deportations started.
Realising it was no longer safe to stay she decided to join the travelling Althoff Circus. Its owner Adolph Althoff went to great lengths to protect the young woman and what remained of her family. Initially using his own money to procure fake papers for them, before later resorting to keeping them hidden altogether. For these humanitarian acts of defiance against the regime, Althoff has since been included in the list of the Righteous Amongst the Nations, a commendation awarded by the State of Israel to those who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination.
Jumping in and out her storytelling, Meishar intersperses episodes of Irene’s humbling life with her own personal experience as a granddaughter of a Holocaust victim. Her biggest regret being that very little information is available about her grandfather, something which makes her feel as if her roots are lost forever.
Although very touching, these interruptions of the main plot feel too abrupt, undermining the ability of the drama to reach any climax. Perhaps, it would have been more effective to leave her autobiographical considerations at the end, once the horror of the events regarding Irene had sank in with all their painstaking details.
A brief but continuous handling of props and relentless costume changes are tiresome, detracting from the attention the story deserves. Shoshana Bass’s direction seems too anxious to fill the space with action, remaining oblivious to the power of the words to stand alone. With several transitions being far from smooth, we can’t help but wonder if all the faff with the dressing gowns is necessary and, if so, what for exactly. The set though is beautifully overlooked by a swinging trapeze, on which Meishar performs some numbers that represent the excruciating challenges faced by the character.
Irene’s story is of a wonderful nature. Highlighting both the evils of the Nazi and the simple generosity of those who used all their power and means to prevent innocent people from being deported and killed. Eighty years later, the drama of the Holocaust is still a timely matter. It is essential to keep educating and thus preventing the risks of a similar tragedy happening again. Especially at a time when the political climate sees a concerning return to nationalism and xenophobia.
Written and Performed by: Stav Meishar
Directed by: Shoshana Bass
Produced by: Dreamcoat Experience and Petite Mort Productions
Booking Information: This show has completed its current run in London to embark on a UK tour.