“A sterling effort”
Loring Mandel’s Conspiracy, which many may know from the 2001 HBO film starring Kenneth Branagh, dramatises the 1942 Wannsee conference in Nazi Germany – where several powerful members of various agencies and government departments met to discuss and agree upon a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”. Undoubtedly one of the major turning points in global history, it is almost sickening now to witness the frank discussions from these men of how best to be rid of millions – millions – of Jews. Strap in.
Upon entering Assembly Roxy’s large Central space, you get a feeling something big is going to happen: the impressive design encompasses a crescent shaped 15-seat conference table – complete with place names, glasses and cigarettes – while a full-on buffet spread is arranged behind it. This is a production that doesn’t shy away from details, as the excellent vintage costuming also pertains to.
Stylistically, Mandel’s script doesn’t quite have the wow-factor of some of its comparable contemporaries: the dialogue doesn’t sing as much as in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, while it lacks some of the narrative drive of Reginal Rose’s 12 Angry Men. What it does have, though, is a gut-wrenching sense of inevitability as the decision is reached with a pitiful defence of humanity, and it’s this short journey which makes it a powerful ensemble piece – achingly relevant to the political landscape unfolding in America now.
Director Robin Osman gives himself a mammoth task in pulling off this production, and a real strength is managing the cast of 16 at all points to maintain interest and relevant focus. Indeed the down-time moments of the meeting are almost more impressive than the lengthy debate, which often seems at odds with itself when it comes to levels of tension, frustration and power with each character. The overall presentation comes across as slick and well-rehearsed, though some cast members are somewhat guilty of overacting their smaller parts, creating a bizarre sense of imbalance to those with a more subtle approach.
For me, the standout performers are: Alexander Gray as Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, who navigates the most complex emotional journey throughout the piece; Chris Pearson as Dr Wilhelm Kritzinger, for exuding a natural quiet authority; and Ben Blow for his compelling and convincing turn as Otto Hoffman.
Overall, this is a sterling effort for an amateur production of this challenging play. It’s a bit of a slog to sit through, but well worth it for the vital history lesson, if nothing else.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 June)
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