Theatre in Wales

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Soul-piercing Reading of Simple and Monumental Poetry.

Holocaust

Mike Pearson, John Rowley & Rhodri Davies, , Chapter , January-27-20
Holocaust  by Mike Pearson, John Rowley & Rhodri Davies, We haven’t been able to escape the media pointing out it’s the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and also it being World Holocaust Day. It looms large over the end of January, though saying this it is a big anniversary year.

The reading of Holocaust by Objectivist poet Charles Reznikoff, Mike Pearson and John Rowley recalls their previous work. In their retelling of Reznikoff’s Testimony: The United States (1885 -1915), a durational piece at Experimentica, we had 8 hours worth of court hearings concerning the working class, people of colour and homeless people. A sense of harsh lawlessness and the cold lawyer's eye Reznikoff mastered proves his brilliance as a writer, with little to no ornament added to the documents, just merely transferred into verse. These pieces also prove his vastly underrated qualities, with his own work being self published, prior to his death in 1976.

In Holocaust, I knew the material would be upsetting, but I did not expect it to have the brutal impact that it did. Testimonies from the Nuremberg Tribunals and the trials of Adolf Eichmann, deliver the most horrendous details of the Nazi war crimes. This is unflinching stuff, cold and clear cut (with poems given basic titles such as Massacres, Ghettos and so on), with every poem going deeper into the bestial manner in which victims were abused and murdered. Throughout, I find myself awash in emotion: disgust, misery, anxiety, shock and hopelessness. There were times where I though I had to get out of here, such was the terrible feeling I felt inside, a fight or flight trigger that thankfully calmed down. After a while, you began to become detached to the material, a disassociation in order to prevent a mental breakdown, concerning what had actually taken place.

Whilst most stories were vile, I found some to be quite absorbing. I was rooting for one young Jew who hid behind a door and stabbed an SS officer, only to run away as fast as he could. Who know’s what happened to him? A man from Liechtenstein also appears to get away with his life, even after being caught stealing one potato and having his hands hung up as punishment. The fate of a pretty young girl, given mercy by an officer (freeing her because was she was so beautiful) is quickly shot as her back turned, is one of many examples of false hope the Nazis offered. The descriptions of what happened to the children I can’t even go into…

I completely understood why some audience members left and did not return. We were given the option to go and have a break and come back as we wished (this also worked well for durational Testimony). These are things you might regret having to ever hear. The type of imagery festers in your brain for days after. You could clearly see that Pearson and Rowley held back tears at times, though I half expect them to let it all out. Their dry and to the point delivery compliments the style of the poetry. The seating was laid in way to create a heightened urgency to it all, three rows spread out very near to both readers (I was in the front row, inches away from Rowley). Rhodri Davies offered the perfect musical atmosphere, adding nerve ending manipulation and visceral noise from his electronics and old harp. Applause was not something I never expected to hear at the end (though sitting there and crying felt like an option).

I left the theatre dazed and deeply disturbed.

Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by: James Ellis

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