Writers and Directors: Dana Segal and Joni-Rae Carrack
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan
‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ That’s Wittgenstein. It’s a square quote stuffed into a round hole by Dakin in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, used to put a journalistic stamp on his argument that the Holocaust cannot be discussed because it lies so far beyond the realm of human experience, silence is the only proper response.
It’s not exactly a watertight argument. There are several easily punched holes in it, principally that only by discussing the Holocaust do we remember it, and only by remembering it do we ensure it never happens again. But it is nonetheless true that it is incredibly difficult to present a show about the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany without somehow trivialising them and cheapening them.
Sort Of Theatre’s Buttons does its best to treat the weightiest of topics with respect, but it is a fundamentally misguided piece of theatre that’s power comes entirely from the subject it deals with, and not from the show itself. Performers Dana Segal and Joni-Rae Carrack have clearly created an intensely personal, intensely emotional show – particularly for Segal, whose family connection with the camps is movingly evident throughout – but although their experiences making it have profoundly affected them, they would do better to refrain from sharing them, in this fashion at least.
Structurally, Buttons is essentially a dramatised exhibition of some holiday photos, but that description belies the sobriety of Segal and Carrack’s trip to Poland to visit Auschwitz. With a ill-fitting combination of knockabout comedy (which isn’t funny), overworked puppetry (which doesn’t engage), and unrefined narration, they tell the story of their journey from Stansted to Kraków to Birchenau and back.
They are at pains throughout to stress how uncomfortable they feel about making a show about their experience, but that doesn’t stop the piece’s tone seriously grating at points. Both speak in an unrelentingly colloquial style: ‘So, yeah, we kind of, like, I dunno, felt sort of, I dunno’ is a typical sentence, and if that is as far as they can articulate their feelings then they should think seriously about taking Wittgenstein’s advice before their next performance. I don’t doubt that both Segal and Carrack feel deeply affected by their work, but their understandable inability to express themselves does not make for engrossing theatre.
They occasionally touch on something profound, like the personal effect of public atrocity and the proprietorial feelings that can invade contemplation of such things, but these moments are few and far between. The truth is that Buttons is a banal piece of theatre about an inconceivable act of genocide, and it is only arresting because of the undiluted horror the concentration camps of the Nazi regime can evoke.
Reviewed on 27 May 2016 | Image: Contributed