The First to Go
Tron, Glasgow, until Sat 7 Jun, then touring
Seeing disabled actors performing in a mainstream theatre is rare enough. Benchtours’ production of Nabil Shaban’s play about the treatment of the disabled in Nazi Germany is doubly ground-breaking in that it brings a marginalised atrocity before Scottish audiences in a powerful, moving production.
Shaban’s play portrays the horrors of the so-called ‘T4’ programme (in which any person considered by the Nazis to have a hereditary disease was sterilised and later executed) through the story of three disabled friends, Siegfried (played by Shaban), Heidi (Robyn Hunt) and Helmut (Alan Clay). In one of the play’s many ironic twists, the trio’s sympathetic nurse Brunhilde (Cernie Burnell) is also disabled, having lost part of a limb in an accident.
In his passionate urge to tell this story, Shaban’s script occasionally takes on the feel of a lecture, with members of the supporting cast intermittently popping up to précis the wider historical context. These segments are overlong and fall flat in contrast to the otherwise witty, remorseless dialogue.
The most engaging scenes are those in which the three friends find escape through storytelling, spinning out a thinly veiled allegory about the ‘Bad Man’ (Hitler) and his ‘Liar’ (Goebbels). Their shared humiliations and small triumphs, are so convincingly depicted in the writing and strong performances that it makes the knowledge of their impending fate all the more upsetting.