News Column

Review: Edinburgh: Theatre: Beauty and beastliness as a god takes on the Nazis: Ganesh Versus the Third Reich: Royal Lyceum 4/5

August 12, 2014

Lyn Gardner

At the end of this remarkable meta-theatrical spectacle created by Australia's Back to Back Theatre, an ensemble of learning-disabled actors, one of the performers, Mark Deans, is encouraged by the director to play a game of hide and seek. Mark joyfully hides under a table. We hear him giggling long after the director has abandoned him in an empty theatre, leaving him quite, quite alone as the lights fade to black.

It is but one of many startling images and devastating moments in this multi-layered, often funny and confrontational piece exploring disability, representation and authenticity. In the process, the cast questions who has the right to tell a story and who has the right to be heard: on stage and in everyday life.

It would be interesting to see this in tandem with Exhibit B at the Playfair Library, which confronts how we look and what we are prepared to really see. There is a moment echoing that searing installation, when the director - Ridiculusmus's David Woods, the only non-disabled cast member - points to the audience and suggests we are only here for the "freak porn", as day trippers to see the animals in the theatrical zoo.

The debate is charged here, too, touching as it does on the sensitive subjects of disability and the Holocaust. There are many undercurrents and stories being waved in front of us, but at its heart this is the tale of the elephant-headed deity, Ganesh, who - to stop his father destroying the universe - travels to Hitler's Germany in order to reclaim the ancient Sanskrit symbol of wellbeing that has been appropriated as the Nazi swastika. He is befriended by a young, disabled Jewish boy, who has been singled out by Josef Mengele for his experiments. Ironically, it may be his disability that saves the boy's life.

Entwined with this story is another about a theatre company making a show in which relationships between the cast and the director become increasingly fraught. Questions about the creative process are raised, and tensions rise around just who has the right to say what about whom - including whether or not Mark has the mind of a goldfish. Fascinating, often oddly beautiful, and in one sequence where the director - wearing a Nazi uniform - turns violently on one of his actors, seriously alarming.

Lyn Gardner

Until 12 August. Box office:

0131-226 0000.


Startling images . . . Ganesh Versus the Third Reich Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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