Ganesh versus the Third Reich was the first play I went last week to see at the Basel theatre. Firstly it was surprising they were playing an English play in Basel. But I am a fan of theatre artists and thus had to go and watch. This isn‘t a review as I am not good at it and thus never tried, what I will try to do is narrate my experience.
There were two main factors why I was interested to go and watch the play. Ganesh versus the Third Reich is a 100 minute skit by a learning-disabled ensemble produced by Back to Back theatre group.
The play revolves around two narratives to address a major question „who has the right to tell a story and who has the right to be heard.”
The first narrative is that of a director who wants to direct a play on Lord Ganesh with a cast of disabled actors. The stage opens with bare minimum props and a group of actors who are trying to enact a story.
The second narrative is interwoven with first and an interesting shot in 1943 when Adolf Hitler has stolen the Swastika a symbol of wellbeing and balance. Lord Shiva is enraged and vows to end the universe, that is when goddess Parvati (wife of Lord Shiva) and mother of Lord Ganesh demands her son Ganesh to go to Germany and reclaim the Swastika to calm Lord Shiva.
While this narrative of Lord Ganesh’s resolve to get the swastika back is enacted, the cast keeps interrupting the play and and switching to first narrative of improvising the backstage rehearsals.
Certain scenes from narrative one are uncomfortable and pose serious questions be it when a bolshie actor called Scott Price is questioning his co-star’s Mark’s mental capacity. “You’ve got the mind of a goldfish,” Scott challenges Mark Deans, the non-communicative character in the cast. “Do you?” the David Woods (the only abled cast member), the director joins in. “Do you have the mind of a goldfish?” Mark silences for long thinking for an answer.
This scene tries to point to the Nazi’s mass extermination programme T4 for disabled people where they killed people with deformity. The director David Woods (narrative one) also plays Dr. Josef Mengele in narrative two who was a known Doctor in the Nazi regime and is seen walking on the stage an SS uniform, shouting about his passion for “the abnormal be it birth defects, dwarfs, mongoloids or some degenerative conditions”.
The constantly drop out of character to question their right of telling the story specially when none of them are Hindu or Jewish.
The play is intelligently crafted trying to bring up subtle questions aloud. These scenes are kept simple but beautifully designed – they used shadow-play-style backdrops are used and pulled on and off transparent curtains; to show Swiss alps moving past the train, and the moonless night sky of Berlin.
On the way Lord Ganesh meets a feeble man from a concentration camp who narrates his story of how Hitler killed his family the sisters because they were too young and the others who were too old.
I found the climax point of the play when the director shocks into a direct address to the audience, challenging various levels of involvement, whether sympathetic, ashamed, demeaning – or simply accepting, finally identifying the audience as the potential enemy.
Lord Ganesh reclaims the Swastika in narrative two and Hitler is seen walking away and the director coming forth, trying to convey the evil does not end.
All in all a brilliant play as i feel that every individual will have his own perspective and take on the questions posed be it right to perform or the abled and strong always oppress others. It is poignant, thought provoking and has a lasting impact on the audience.
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