Who Will Carry the Word? – The Complex, Dublin
Director: Cliodhna McAllister
Writer: Charlotte Delbo
Blacklight productions present the Irish premiere of Charlotte Delbo’s play Who Will Carry the Word? This play, and the playwright, are criminally under known and this offers an opportunity to bring Delbo’s experiences and writings to a whole new audience.
Who Will Carry the Word? draws on Delbo’s wartime experiences as an active member of the French Resistance, who along with other members of her brigade, was taken prisoner and eventually sent to Auschwitz. Delbo and her fellow comrades had prepared for the thought of prison and even torture, but nothing could prepare them for the reality they were about to find themselves in. This was a place where, Delbo tells us, truth, certainty and all past understanding no longer had any meaning. The only question left, was whether to try to survive, or to die. For some suicide was the only right, the only choice they felt they had left. For others the need to survive outweighed all of the horror. After so many deaths it became essential that their experiences, their voices, could be heard, and given meaning. For these resistance fighters the act of resistance didn’t end with their capture.
This is one of the few times that a play might benefit from being performed on a smaller stage: to emphasise the feeling of claustrophobia, of closed doors and no chance to escape. The large open space of the stage invited the audience in, however it meant that the action was at times spread too far apart, with key moments occurring to the left or right of the audience’s viewpoint. A large all female cast pull together to imitate standing at roll call, in straight lines, unable to hold onto each other. For the rest of the time only several actresses are brought to the fore. For many of us this will be our first time hearing about the female experience of Auschwitz.
Sound and lighting were used to great effect. At times searchlights roam over the women. Each woman straightens her back and looks ahead when caught in the light. Sirens and gunshots are well timed to complement the action on stage. The production improves as it progresses. The philosophies being debated at the beginning become increasing personal. The audience become attached to the characters as more is revealed about them. The final scene is tenderly told and devastating. It would have been easy to over play this section however the director and actors manage to infuse the final moments of the play with honesty and a sad beauty.
Each character has a five digit number tattooed onto her arm. An important reminder that they represent real women who suffered this horrendous fate. Although it is not quite possible to say that one enjoyed this production it was one of the most singular and worthwhile theatre going experiences in Dublin this year. This is an ambitious production that attempts to tell a difficult story and it can only be enhanced as more and more people take the opportunity to see Who Will Carry the Word?.
Runs Until 2nd December 2017 at the Complex, Dublin 7. Running time 1hr 40 mins.