Arts review: Into That Darkness

Dir. Gareth Nicholls, Citizens Theatre, 18th – 30th May 2015

Into That Darkness was never going to be an easy play to watch. Adapted for the stage by Robert David MacDonald, it is based on writer Gitta Sereny’s remarkable interviews with Franz Stangl, SS officer and commander of Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps. Sereny spent 70 hours interviewing Stangl in prison, where he was to spend the rest of his life having been found guilty of the murders of 900,000 people: the day after the interviews finished, he died of heart failure.

Stangl is played to perfection by Cliff Burnett as a slightly vain, neurotic old man, who sees himself even at this stage as a minor player who simply did his job. He twists his tale, trying to weasel his way out of admitting the true extent of his responsibility for the killings at the camps. His sudden eruptions of rage and sorrow come almost without warning, as he attempts to explain how he rationalised his terrible crimes.

The play takes place entirely within a glass-fronted cube, the interrogation room in which the almost unshakeable Sereny, played by Blythe Duff, sternly but sensitively extracts “some kind of truth” from Stangl. The moment when he finally admits his guilt, for the first time in his life, is electrifying, Sereny watching silently as he crumbles under the weight of the truth.

Above all, Into That Darkness drives home one of the most horrifying truths of the Holocaust: such evil was done and facilitated by people just like us. Despite his extraordinary role in events, Stangl is a man like many others. He loves his children and expresses the loneliness he has felt throughout his whole life. His wife (Molly Innes), aware of the horrors of the camps, chooses to believe that her husband’s work is purely administrative, rather than face up to the devastating reality. At the beginning and end of each act, a painfully bright light is shone on the audience, forcing us to look ahead to the stage and into the front wall of the set, which becomes a gigantic mirror. “Take a look at yourselves”, it seems to say. “What would you have done?” As the horrified, tear-streaked faces in the mirror show, the answer is not as clear as we would like it to be.

[Lauren Cummings @ _laurenC]

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