The Project (White Bear Theatre)

Posted: March 8, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: Ian Buckley      Director: Anthony Shrubsall


It is 1943 in German occupied Westerbork in The Netherlands. Jews are being forced to wear yellow stars and are held in a transit camp, pending the publication every Tuesday of the names of those who are to be moved east to a camp which we presume to be of a far worse kind. Ian Buckley’s new drama, with a little music and dance, takes place in this ominous setting and focusses on a troupe of entertainers who put on shows for their fellow inmates and their “hosts”.

Five of the play’s six characters wear the yellow star, the sixth being Mike Duran’s slimy Conrad Schaffer of the SS, who sports his swastika with pride. Schaffer proves that he is not all bad when he calls for medical assistance after he has shot a random detainee in the foot, but the fact that he does not give a Nazi salute is not enough to disqualify him from being labelled a stereotype. The character sets the tone for a play that packs in just about all the stale clichés seen in abundance in World War II dramas for more than 70 years.

Victor (Lloyd Morris) is the resident impresario at the camp, organising and hosting cabarets featuring dancer Anna (Faye Maughan), her boyfriend, singer/songwriter Peter (Nick Delvallé) and her ungainly sister Millie (Eloise Jones). Learning that the name of their hospitalised mother (Cate Morris) appears on next Tuesday’s list, Anna and Millie go into a spin and Anna accepts an invitation to give private dance lessons to Schaffer in the hope that he will reprieve her. In the event, the German proves to be an inept sexual predator, settling for just a waltz and a kiss.

Credit is due to the actors for ensuring that Anthony Shrubsall’s lifeless production does not fall into the “so bad it’s good” category, but it is often a struggle for them. When Victor’s rather quaint show is performed at the beginning of the second act, the thought occurs that Buckley could have intended his play to have become a musical along the lines of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, but, sadly, the performance ends having taken the drama nowhere.

Buckley ’s plotting fills up a powder keg, but then he forgets to ignite it. Time and again, promising scenes are set up and then driven into blind alleys and, for all its earnestness, this tepid wartime drama achieves about as much gravitas as an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!.

Performance date: 7 February 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

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