DramaNorth WestReview

The Long Shadow of Alois Bruner – Aviva Studios, Manchester

Reviewer: Beth McMillan

Writer: Mudar Alhaggi

Director: Omar Elerian

What is one of the most wanted and dangerous Nazi war criminals doing on the dusty streets of Damascus, Syria? How was Alois Brunner able to evade numerous assassination attempts and forge a new life in Syria, where he was instrumental in building the country’s intelligence services? These are the questions that haunt Syrian playwright Mudar Alhaggi upon his arrival in Germany 5 decades later, but after embarking on a research mission bordering on obsession, he vanishes without trace… perhaps the story isn’t over….

Set in twenty-first century Berlin, ‘The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner’ follows actors Mohammad Al Rashi and Wael Kadour as they attempt to piece together the fragments of Alhaggi’s research and writing to create a finished play.

The real-life Alhaggi’s (a playwright and cultural activist) writing is poignant and thought-provoking, exploring complex themes of exile, refuge and justice, with a sensitivity that only comes from the lived experience of having to flee your own country.

His combining of real-world history with his own memories and imaginings, intertwining fact with fiction, highlights the unreliability and distorted nature of political memory and the difficulty of assigning blame and taking accountability for past events.

Alhaggi’s story is a highly personal one. Through his imagined meetings with Brunner, where he can finally confront the figure who has consumed his waking days, we see the complex relationship between the past and present and how history impacts our lives now. Alhaggi is a refugee in Germany because of a dictatorship formed by a criminal who consulted Brunner and there are undeniable parallels between events in Syria and Nazi Germany.

Performed in Arabic with English subtitles, the production may be less accessible for younger or family audiences and the placement of the subtitle screen means it can’t be easily seen by some sections of the audience.

Witnessing the performance in the native language of the characters undoubtedly helps the audience engage with the material on a deeper level. However, the deliberately disjointed story, with the action jumping quickly between past and present, and the actors between playing themselves and portraying Alhaggi and Brunner, makes it difficult to follow at points.

Al Rashi and Kadour of the Collective Ma’Louba deliver truly heartfelt performances, skillfully navigating the many layers of the narrative and their moving accounts of their own lived experiences as refugees adds authenticity to their performance. The pair make a fantastic double act, delivering some unexpectedly hilarious lines amidst the heavy subject matter!

Multi-award-winning Palestinian Italian director Omar Elerian makes full use of the simple yet effective set depicting the cluttered rehearsal space, ensuring the focus remains on the actors.

The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner is a compelling and timely production that confronts difficult truths and grapples with the complexities of history and memory. With powerful performances based on lived experiences and poignant writing, it’s a production that leaves a lasting impression and sparks important conversations about the world today.

Runs until 23 March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score:

Thought provoking

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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