Bold and confronting comedy
By Myron My
The farce Mein Kampf revolves around Hitler’s younger years as a man who is struggling to become an artist (and to secretly take over the world – including New Zealand). In Vienna, he meets a well-educated, bible selling Jewish man Shlomo Herzl, and through this chance encounter, chaos ensues. Written in 1987 by George Tabori – himself a survivor of the holocaust – it is somewhat autobiographical yet it is also a complete fabrication, and knowing this really sets the mood quite fittingly for Mein Kampf.
The three leads; Mark Wilson (Shlomo), Glenn van Oosterom (Hitler) and Mark Bonanno (Lobkowitz) are just phenomenal. Their comedy timing is impeccable and their superb facial expressions and physicality are a testament to the skills and dedication they have brought to the roles. The three of them ensure that every line they deliver is with utter conviction. Wilson is on stage for the whole show – nearly 2 hours – and there is not one scene where he wavers or his energy lowers in this demanding role. Van Oosterom is most impressive as the man with the short and fiery temper, especially when he threw himself into one of his many angry speech-giving tirades the vehemence of which would turn the character’s face red from frustration.
The humour in Mein Kampf is used not to poke fun at the atrocities that occurred under Hitler’s regime but behind the entertainment, we are reminded of the tragedy. Shlomo attempts to persuade Hitler to get into politics and later Hitler comments he will purchase Shlomo a gift: an oven, so he can keep warm. Tabori famously wants us to recognise that the holocaust and events surrounding it “are taboos that must be broken or they will continue to choke us”. The writing is sharp and witty, and despite its plentiful laughs there are poignant moments in the script with dark forebodings of what’s to come. There are a couple of times where the momentum did get lost ever so slightly, including when Frau Death (Uschi Felix) comes to visit and a long scene between Shlomo and his love Gretchen (Stephania Pountney).
I really enjoyed Mein Kampf as I am a firm believer in the idea of there being comic value in everything and through humour we can be educated and informed. The cast were flawless and the laughs kept coming. However – and this is where I feel quite conflicted – there were about ten minutes where I was left morally dubious and extremely uncomfortable. I’m a vegetarian and I don’t impose this view on others but in one scene, a dead chicken is brought on stage and hacked up and drained of its blood with various parts being ripped out, all by Himmlisch, a young Himmler (Samuel Macdonald). It may have been dead, but I was still shocked and disgusted at seeing this and it really dampened my whole experience of this otherwise impressive performance. I feel that as a theatre production, there should be other creative and more sophisticated ways of conveying these visuals and ideas.
Nonetheless, director Beng Oh has done a great job in putting this production together and the importance of having Mein Kampf performed is highlighted with what has been occurring in the world recently. Even after all these years it is very easy for society to discriminate and be hateful towards people because of perceived differences. The absurdity of Tabori’s play succeeds in insisting that we don’t forget, and more importantly, don’t allow anything like those events to happen again.
Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday Street Carlton
Season: Until 25 August | Wed-Sat 8:30pm, Sun 6:30pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: http://lamama.com.au or 9347 6142