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Incident at Vichy

by on 17 November 2022

What Would You Do?

Incident at Vichy

by Arthur Miller

Teddington Theatre Club at The Coward Studio, Hampton Hill until 19th November

Review by David Marks

Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy is a warning from history.  It is a snapshot of one moment in time in a waiting room in Vichy, France in 1942.  The room is populated with a cross section of society – men from all walks of life waiting for their “papers” to be inspected.  Some are released back to their everyday lives.  Others are not and during the course of the play we hear various versions of what might happen to those not released.  None of these versions is good.  Some are truly chilling.

Director Clare Cooper has assembled an excellent cast for this difficult play. The subject matter is very sensitive and is handled as such.  This is a true ensemble piece.  There is no lead character, merely some actors with more lines than others.  All of them spend the entire time they are in the play on stage in full view of the audience and some of the performances of those with least to say are the most impressive.  The depth of emotion portrayed by Roger Smith as the Old Jew who has no lines at all and Jack Dwyer, as the Boy is impressive and truly moving, and Ben Sura as the Gypsy gives a masterclass in what it is to be “other”. 

This is a large cast play and that everyone fits into the small studio space at Hampton Hill Theatre is a tribute to the ingenuity of the director and the set design team of Fiona Auty, Wesley Henderson Roe and Priya Virdee.  The basic lighting plot designed by Laura Sharp is effective and Philip Austin’s original music is hauntingly atmospheric, and used to good effect, although more gentle fading and underscore would benefit the play.  The music is cut off far too suddenly at times.

Miller’s skill in character design is at its best in this play, an early interchange between Alex Pearce (irritatingly nervous) as the Artist and Darren McIlroy (heart-breakingly idealistic) as the Electrician sets the scene clearly: people may not be what they seem and, whatever they are, they won’t want to share that information with anyone else.  It is dangerous to do so.  This latter point is most marked in the character of the Actor, beautifully portrayed by TTC newcomer Oliver Redpath, who can’t even admit the reason he is in the room to himself.  Redpath also gets one of the few funny lines in the play – and a laugh at the expense of actors never goes amiss in a theatre.  Credit to the director for allowing the rare glimpses of humour to shine through and break the tension occasionally.  This play must be taken seriously, but Miller never lets us forget that real people react in real ways and humour is a great mitigator of stress as well as being a nervous reaction.  It has a place in this play, and it is used well.

Jeremy Gill’s Businessman, Harry Medawar’s Ferrand and Loz Keal’s Waiter have little to work with in terms of dialogue but none of them waste their opportunity to provide their character’s unique perspective on the situation, which ends better for some than others.   James Matthews as the Police Guard is a mass of contradictions.  He seems to be struggling inwardly with the task at hand; perhaps he is a man with a conscience.  Or perhaps he is an actor uncomfortable with playing the bad guy.  Jim Trimmer as the Police Captain on the other hand is all business and always present when some sort of nastiness is about to prevail.

The remaining two “prisoners” are played by Marcus Ezekiel and Nigel Andrews.  And what a contrasting pair they are.  Ezekiel, the crumpled psychoanalyst and Andrews the immaculately turned-out patrician.  Both are reasonable men, both see the writing on the wall and the dialogue between them fleshes out much of Miller’s message.  In Ezekiel’s hands, Leduc (the Doctor) is a tragically flawed and highly sympathetic figure.  The role is played sensitively, and his feeling of hopelessness is shared by the audience.  Andrews as the Austrian Prince von Berg looks and sounds perfect, but takes a little too much care over the delivery of his lines at the expense of their meaning.   His command of “hands off” to the socially inferior Nazi interrogator, however, was chillingly effective and almost raised a cheer from the audience.

And what of the “Nazis”?  They are represented by Luke Daxon, as Professor Hoffman, the interrogator who has been picking innocent men off the street for this examination and holds their lives in his hands, and Robin Legard’s Major, a regular army officer who can’t quite come to terms with what he is being tasked with managing.  Both actors give their all.  Daxon is cold and clinical and yet perfectly reasonable.  He is the embodiment of how atrocities can be normalised.  As for Legard, he is pitch perfect.  Thrust into a nightmare by what seems an accident of fate he is no Nazi but a career soldier who is confused and traumatised by the situation in which he finds himself, yet unable to not follow orders.  He is the one character able to see the entire situation for what it is and from all its angles and he is troubled.  As are the audience, for it is Robin Legard’s performance here that possibly reflects our worst fear: “if it were to happen again, what would we do?”

David Marks, November 2022

Photography by Kim Harding

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