There’s often nothing better than a new play that covers some well known moment in history from a new, and possibly unknown angle. A case in point is the latest offering from the Arrow and Traps Theatre Company who are presenting Ross McGregor’s new play The White Rose at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley.
Munich 1943 and Sophie Scholl (Lucy Ioannou) is sitting in an interrogation room. Sophie looks worried and seems to become even more fearful as she is joined by her interrogator, Robert Mohr (Christopher Tester). Although dressed well and having a polite and urbane manner, Sophie knows that Mohr is not just an average police officer but is, in fact, a member of the Gestapo, used to getting the answers he requires from those he questions and probably not that fussed about how they are extracted from them. Mohr is in a pretty strong position with Sophie. In typical Gestapo fashion, he has a comprehensive file on Sophie, knowing her background, history, an everything including her engagement to Fritz, a Wehrmacht officer currently at the Eastern Front. The event that has brought Sophie to the authorities notice sounds fairly innocuous. She was seen kicking leaflets into her university hallway. However, these were not usual uni leaflets, these contained text denouncing the Third Reich, the Nazi pray and Adolf Hitler. Moreover, in another cell, Mohr has been questioning Sophie’s brother Hans (Will Pinchin) so has already been given his story as to the leaflets and how they ended up in the university. Mohr is also knowledgeable about Sophie and Hans’ circle of friends particularly the main group – Fritz (Freddie Cambanakis), Alex (Conor Moss), Christoph (Pearce Sampson), Willi (Alex Stevens) and Traute (Beatrice Vincent). These students spend a lot of time together in a flat that belongs to a Jewish artist and, in some ways, although he wasn’t there, it feels to Sophie as if Mohr knows everything the friends discussed and did while drinking their wine and plotting the future. Against the power of the state embodied in Mohr, what hope can there be for Sophie, her family and her friends?
Based upon real events, The White Rose tells the story of a group of Munich based students during the second world who, appalled by the Nazi regime, started a leaflet campaign calling for the overthrow of Hitler and an end of the war. Author Ross McGregor, who also directs, has obviously done his research to bring this obscure story to life in such an enthralling fashion. On so many levels, The White Rose is a fascinating story of relationships, totalitarianism and the ability of human beings to be that lone voice that stands up against the world. The production starts with various shots of the rise of the Nazi party and the start of the war, overlaid with a voiceover of a speech by Hitler used to get his people committed to total war. It’s a powerful image and really highlights the power that the students are up against with their leaflet campaign. These are really encapsulated in the interrogator, who seems to know everything without Sophie speaking. And I have to say, Mohr is not only an interesting character, who at one point actually tries to help Sophie, but is fantastically played by Christopher Tester. The moments when he and Lucy as Sophie share the stage together as prisoner and interrogator, are really excellent. There is a wonderful part in the second act where Mohr berates Sophie and her friends for despising the state that has given them so much. For just that moment, I actually found myself agreeing with a Gestapo officer, something that really took me by surprise but is a real testament to the writing and acting in front of me. In fact, both the writing and acting throughout were superb. My one minor quibble was how quickly Sophie came to trust her fellow prisoner Else (Cornelia Baumann) – particularly as she was working in the prison for the regime. The Sophie in my mind wouldn’t have been quite so trusting so fast. However, having never been in that situation, I’m not sure I can really judge how another person would react.
The White Rose really is a production where everything has come together beautifully and it would be wrong not to mention Lighting Designer Ben Jacobs, Designer Odin Corine, Sound Designer Alistair Lax and Movement Director Roman Berry. All of these elements really added to the atmosphere of this fascinating story and meant that the actors were able to concentrate on bringing out all the nuances of their well-written characters and passing this amazing story on to another generation.
Rather like in Les Miserables, The White Rose tells a superb story of student rebellion in the face of overwhelming odds. As a production, it cannot be faulted and, If I had my way, a pretty sharpish transfer to the west end would definitely follow this run at the Jack. There are so many parallels with life today, that is quite scary. A powerful leader using his people’s fears and prejudices to seize power and maintain it ‘for their own good’. The rolling back of individual freedoms, censoring of free speech and the decrying of news that doesn’t fit in with the leader’s thoughts. All of these are as prevalent today as they were in 1943, making The White Rose not only an amazing piece of theatre but also scarily prescient. Let’s just hope there are students and other members of society out there ready to risk everything for freedom, like Sophie, Hans and their friends.
Review by Terry Eastham
Based on a true story, The White Rose recounts the final days of Sophie Scholl, a 21-year-old student, who led the only major act of German civil disobedience during the Second World War. Sophie, along with her brother Hans, published underground anti-Nazi leaflets calling for the peaceful overthrow of Hitler.
This timely and provocative play tells her story and explores the role that German citizens played in the rise of Hitler. This play examines the moral strength and courage that led a group of young people to risk their lives for a righteous, dangerous cause. This production marks the 75th anniversary of Sophie Scholl’s execution.
Seven-time Off West End Award Nominated Arrows & Traps Theatre return to the Jack after their sold-out run of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.
The White Rose Listings Information
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Box office: www.brockleyjack.co.uk or 0333 666 3366 (£1.50 fee for phone bookings only)
Dates: Tuesday 17 July to Saturday 4 August 2018 at 7.30pm.