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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Representative
Finborough Theatre Summer 2006


Rolf Hochhuth's 1963 play, also known as The Deputy, raised a great deal of controversy by asking why Pope Pius XII did not do more to save the Jews from the Nazi Holocaust.

Hochhuth stopped short of calling Pius antisemitic or a Nazi sympathiser (though others have) - his strongest accusations were that the Pope was more politician than humanitarian, determined to maintain the mask of neutrality, and that he was so afraid of Communism that he thought of Hitler as the West's best defence against Russia.

Still, the play began a debate that continues within and outside the Catholic Church until today. So The Representative, here getting its first British revival in almost thirty years, is an important historical and political document.

That is, however, not the same thing as being a good play. Overlong (400 pages in print, over 3 1/2 hours in performance) and rambling, it spreads itself too wide and too thin to be effective drama.

In an obvious attempt to give human faces to his political thesis, Hochhuth devotes much of the play to the experience of a young priest traumatised by first learning of and then seeing for himself the horrors of the Camps. Unfortunately this plot, and scenes involving some ordinary Jewish victims, play like dramatic cliches, and Hochhuth is not a good enough dramatist to give them much originality.

In a case of reality being too improbable for art, the evidently historical figure of Kurt Gerstein, an SS officer sickened by the Holocaust who tried to get word to the Pope and stimulate a response, plays like a clumsy theatrical device, and even worse, the suggestion that there was talk within the Vatican of assassinating the Pope and blaming it on the Germans feels like a bad outtake from a potboiler thriller.

With all these difficulties, it is much to the credit of director Kate Wasserberg and this small above-a-pub fringe theatre that they are not completely defeated by the play - which is not the same as saying that they triumph over it.

All the play's faults and flaws are evident, and much of the acting strains to achieve adequacy. Sitting through it is a long and exhausting slog on a hot summer night, one that can only be rewarded by a couple of strong performances and the intellectual experience of engaging this historical debate.

In a large cast, some of whom can most charitably be left unnamed, Oliver Pengelly as the young priest, Steve Sarossy as Kurt Gerstein and David Kershaw as a sadistic German doctor achieve the most in bringing their characters alive and making their experience real.

 

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Representative - Finborough 2006