01 Oct Massacre at Full Throttle
Massacre at full throttle
Barbro Westling sees a powerful production of “Our class” in Helsingborg
» Our class
by Tadeusz Słobodzianek
Translation: Jarema Bielawski
Director: Anja Suša
Stage design: Helga Bumsch
Performers: Gustav Berg, Evamaria Björk, Tobias Borvin, and others
Venue: Helsingborg City Theatre, Lillan
Running time: 1 h 50 min
Tadeusz Słobodzianek’s play “Our class” is based on an unspeakable real-life event. On 10 July, 1941 in a small Polish town of Jedwabne, over a thousand Jews were locked in a barn and set on fire. It was assumed that the crime was committed by the Nazis, but the truth turned out to be even more terrifying. It was actually the non-Jewish Poles in Jedwabne that trapped their own Jewish neighbours and burned them to death, as an act of revenge for their support of the Soviet occupation during the war.
“Our class” has already been staged with great success at Galeasen Theatre in Stockholm and in the rest of the world. It follows ten classmates, Polish Jews and Catholics, before and after the massacre, from 1930s to present day.
At Helsingborg City Theatre the text is shortened and played without intermission, with stage efficiency and a pulse that keep the audience in terrible suspense. Children playing joyfully, falling in love, getting into fights, innocence and brutality. On the stage, adults have never really lost their good/bad childish side. The performance is expressive, explosive, energetic and then – silent moments that come to a standstill. What have actually happened just now?
Although we can see the pattern, we don’t see as clearly who the perpetrators are. A love story suddenly turns into a gang rape, and soon Rysiek (Gustav Berg) stands passively, watching as Dora (Kajsa Ericsson) is forced into the barn. In Anja Suša’s impressive multi-toned production, we get small signals, we hear the insecurity in the lonely scornful laughter, we see the test of how far games of decision-making and obeying can go. The hate that stirs up, invades and takes over. Nobody knows where is comes from, that is the point, when the victims and the dead grow in number, but remain on the stage.
Sound composition (Igor Gostuski) and sound design (Emanuel Arvanitis) work together extraordinary. We are in two places at the same time – in a museum, among stifling high glass windows with displayed objects, and in a whining, noisy, fluorescently flashing brown classroom. Helga Bumsch’s stage design is beautiful, and the director shows how it can be put to great use when the story becomes physical, incomprehensible and importunately beyond conventions and realism. When the cast goes into a highly-strung full throttle, it feels unfair to remember the figure that is standing still, Abram (Vilhelm Blomgren), who has emigrated to the USA early in the story, and has been following his classmates from there, like a voice of faith and world consciousness. There is a lesson to be taught out of that well.