Fringe Review – Mengele (rating: 5/5)
Exploring the nature of evil is one of the most powerful and astonishing pieces of theatre I have ever seen.
In its first visit to the Fringe this two-header features an imagined conversation between the notorious Dr Josef Mengele, a Nazi SS Officer and doctor being saved while drowning off a beach in Brazil.
Mengele fled to South America after butchering thousands of Jews, especially women and children, in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the name of eugenics.
He was particularly focused on studying twins and gloried in the selection process.
Tim Marriott who has a long theatre pedigree and TV sitcom, performs the main role and also penned the play, inspired by the novel Right to Live by Philip Wareham.
Both he and the female lead Emma Zadow as Azra’il, a word play on Israel, are outstanding.
Both actors spent some time at Auschwitz supported by the Holocaust Educational Trust. Previous performances have taken place on beaches in Spain and Crete and this show has triumphed in schools.
Zadow, who is also a writer and artist, responded to her Auschwitz experience by creating art and blogging.
After its Edinburgh run it will be performed at the Soho Playhouse Theatre in New York. The timing of this play couldn’t be better as current events make us all question the nature of white supremacism and also the psyche of the sociopath.
The play opens poignantly and heartbreakingly with a backdrop of scenes from the camps.
On the opening day, however, there were problems with sound as an audience member had accidentally tripped over a cable just before curtain up so the Yiddish soundtrack couldn’t be heard. It was only at the end that the players realised what had happened.
No matter, the images spoke for themselves, and in some ways the silence communicated more powerfully than any soundtrack could.
Mengele was never brought to justice and even managed to return to Switzerland later in life to visit his son.
The scripting is philosophical and intellectual and the action is also very physical as the two players joust verbally and physically about the nature of evil.
There are also moments of beauty and one or two comic lines – hard to believe.
Marriott researched the project over two years, and has Mengele explain in philosophical terms why the final solution, Darwinism and eugenics were necessary.
Most will be familiar with Mengele from the film The Boys from Brazil starring Gregory Peck.
In this treatment, the murderous doctor glories in his past as he explains: “I was a pioneer.”
He quotes Heidegen and Schiller and the composer Wagner to justify his butchering ideals.
He tells his saviour: “I can make you an Ayrian goddess.”
Railing against conventional medicine which reverses nature and treats unproductive people he believes certain “bloodlines should be curtailed.”
He calls his saviour a mixed blood peasant as she constantly challenges his murderous ideologies.
This play stirred my emotions and brought me to tears. It was a true masterclass in acting and writing and there were some jaw-dropping twists with both players excelling themselves in the final denouement.
Many of the audience members were in tears. Achingly, one woman was a direct descendant of Ava, one of the twins who made it out alive from the camp.
This play will surely enjoy a long run in New York, and should be filmed and shown in all schools and colleges.
It shows daily in a 30-capacity studio ,so there may a rush on tickets.
Mengele is daily at “Sweet”, Grassmarket Apex until 20 August