Writer: Gitta Sereny
Adaptor: Robert David MacDonald
Director: Gareth Nicholls
Reviewer: Jennifer Minich
Jarring and disorienting, Into That Darkness stays with you long after the curtain falls. Billed as the dramatisation of an interview, itis a complex deconstruction of a high-ranking Nazi’s rationalisation of his part in the Holocaust. Adapted for the stage by Citizens Theatre’s former artistic director Robert David MacDonald, Into That Darkness was first performed in April 1994 and once again in June 2011 as In Quest of a Conscience.
Into That Darkness is based on the true-life interviews conducted by journalist and author Gitta Sereny (Blythe Duff) with former Nazi SS-Obersturmfuhrer Franz Stangl (Cliff Burnett) following his conviction in 1970 for his part in the murders of over 1 million people in Nazi extermination camps and euthanasia programs during World War II. Stangl walks Sereny through his childhood and experiences as a young policeman in Nazi era Austria. Stangl is a vain and disingenuous man and his story is undeniably incongruous. Although he insists on his powerlessness to oppose the orders given to him, his story is punctuated by contradictory testimonies from the Male Chorus (Ali Craig) and Female Chorus (Molly Innes). Sereny yearns for a genuinely emotional reaction from Stangl but as the interview progresses she is only further horrified by Stangl’s lack of humanity. Stangl’s penchant for reinterpretation, rationalization and denial is shocking.
The severity and modernity of the designer Neil Hayne’s stage set is wonderfully juxtaposed against the opulence of Citizen’s Theatre’s Victorian theatre. Into That Darkness is bottled within a minimalist prison interview room encased in glass. The separation of the actors from the audience is disorienting. Compartmentalization is a constant theme in Into That Darkness. Light designer Stuart Jenkins and sound designer Michael John McCarthy enhance the feeling of disorientation by flooding the senses with light and sound and sharp scene transitions.
Duff’s Sereny oozes intrepid confidence and professionalism. The audience is only afforded brief glimpses of sadness and disgust while she is within the interview room and she only allows herself to break down momentarily when she exits for a brief phone call. Duff’s control of the character is admirable. Theoretically, it might be easy to sympathize with Burnett’s Stangl, an ageing, white-haired man; however, Burnett infuses his character with nuanced artificiality. Craig and Innes provide authoritative presences on stage, effectually and efficiently discrediting Stangl’s carefully constructed lies.
In the end, Citizens Theatre’s production of Into That Darkness presents its audience with more questions than it answers. It asks us to confront the ways in which we view the Holocaust and human atrocity. Now seventy years in the past, do we as a society compartmentalize the Holocaust? Utilizing superb performances, disturbing light and sound design and ingenious set design Into That Darkness asks us to re-examine the atrocities of the past and present. Into That Darkness is a production that will keep you engaged long after the house lights come up.
Runs until 30 May, 2015