[THEATRE/Social Change ~ UK]
by Catherine Blanch.
Following a sell-out premiere season at Adelaide Fringe 2018, followed by sell out award-winning performances Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 and 2019, and the New York Fringe Encore in 2018, Tim Marriott’s Mengele returns to Adelaide Fringe in 2020. Mengele is a powerful psychological drama making connections between past and present.
Presented by Smokescreen Productions, we speak with writer, actor and producer Tim Marriott who begins by telling us about this year’s Fringe offering.
“Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor of Auschwitz death camp, was never caught. Ultimately he drowned off a beach in Brazil in 1979. The play imagines him washed ashore where he meets an enigmatic woman who he assumes has saved him. But she hasn’t come to save him…”
Have you ever had any backlash regarding the title?
“No, not for the title,” Tim says. “I would hope that it is clear that we are approaching the subject matter from an objective angle. I hope that people can see that we are simply trying to highlight where buying into the rhetoric of hatred and bigotry can lead – and tell a good story. The awards we have received and invitations to perform at festivals around the world seem to suggest we’re doing something worthwhile. I am writing this as I travel to Austria to perform in Hitler’s home-town of Braunau, which will be a bit daunting!”
How much of the play is historically factual?
“The setting of the play is obviously a fantasy, but as the woman he meet encourages him to attempt to justify his life then what he says is drawn from detailed historical research and guidance from Holocaust charities. His escape to South America is well documented, as are his hideous exploits at Auschwitz.”
Mengele is inspired by the novel Right To Live by Philip Wharam. What drew you to that book and what lead you to creating this production?
“It was a commission,” Tim explains. “The author approached me to adapt his novel, which is factually based and tells the tale of how Mengele escaped justice. Phil has studied the period for over 30 years and is not only extremely knowledgeable but also very driven to remind people of the Holocaust so that we have a better chance of avoiding repeating history.”
What is it that you are hoping to portray to audiences and what do you hope that take away with them?
“The advice we received from Holocaust charities was not to present the man as a monster, because then he is too easy to dismiss as ‘evil’. What is, perhaps, more interesting is to access the humanity in him, to recognise the potential for ‘evil’ in all of us. In 1963, Auschwitz guards went on trial in Frankfurt. The local press described them as ‘harmless family men’ and ‘hardworking citizens’ before the true nature of their horrific crimes became apparent. How did these people become so monstrous? As survivor Lydia Tischler put it; “The best way is to remember is for it not to happen again… for the potential for destructiveness is in all of us.”
Who will be playing the ‘mysterious woman’?
“Azra is played by Adelaide’s own, wonderful Stefanie Rossi,” Tim says. “She did a terrific job with the role in Adelaide 2018, so we for the last two Edinburgh seasons we have flown her over from Australia to perform there. She has really helped grow the piece and is stunning in performance.”
You’re perhaps best known in the United Kingdom for your role as Gavin Featherly from The Brittas Empire. Of all your artistic mediums, do you have one you enjoy most, and why?
“The World Wide Fringe, of course! After Brittas ended I got out of the ’business’ to work in education. 17 years later, when I retired from teaching, I asked my daughter who was then an agent, about returning to the theatre. She advised that I could either look for understudy work in the West End or go back to the beginning and do Fringe.
“Some of theatre’s best work I have seen has been in a Fringe environment,” he says, “so that’s where I went. It’s been the most exciting, raw, risky but rewarding experience and it’s taken me all across the globe from Edinburgh to New York and back to Adelaide again, which now feels like a second home. It is a gem of a city and a fabulous festival season; it’s fantastic to be a small part of that. Mengele really took off here in 2018 and two sell out seasons in Edinburgh followed, so I have much to thank Adelaide for.”
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
“Meeting Auschwitz survivors and those with a direct relationship with the subject matter have been extraordinarily humbling and emotional. Visiting the Amud Aish Holocaust Memorial Museum in New York as guests was beyond words. The response of the daughter of the lead prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials was exceptional. She wrote that she found the play ‘Harrowing, but truly awesome. It’s fascinating to see his conscience unfurl. Hugely impressive and we need to be reminded. So keep going. Hugely important.’ I should also mention heartfelt thanks to David Robinson of The Clothesline who kindly wrote of the 2018 production was ‘superbly written’ and that the performers ‘excel’!
What is the response from the Jewish Community?
“Very supportive, as have wider communities. The Amud Aish Museum endorsed our work in New York and the Holocaust Educational Trust in Scotland wrote: ‘We are delighted to show our support for this vitally challenging piece of theatre that seeks to highlight the horrors of where hatred, racism and prejudice led and can lead when groups and individuals stand by in their wake. Not only will you leave deeply moved by and empowered with knowledge from the piece – you will also have the option to channel this energy into a cause which actively combats modern-day racism.’
“We were also awarded a prestigious Lustrum Award at Edinburgh and a Fringe Encore to New York.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
“We are particularly inspired by a survivor who is mentioned in the play: Eva Mozes Kor,” Tim says. “She gave her life to the cause of forgiveness and reconciliation, and returned to Auschwitz, leading tours, ten times. Unimaginably brave. Last summer, on our opening night at the Avignon Festival in France, we received word that Eva, on her last tour, had died in her hotel in Krakow. By guiding participants through her most traumatic memories, she was selflessly educating others to the last. In her final interview she expressed a simple wish to us all; ‘When you get up in the morning, think of doing something good.’.”
If you were a flavour of ice cream what would you be and why?
“Mint Chocolate! Because it’s my favourite! I wouldn’t want to be vanilla…”
Tim Marriott performs Mengele at The Garage International @ Adelaide Town Hall, at various times, on Tue 25 Feb until Fri 13 Mar.
Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 and adelaidefringe.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.