I needed to rethink everything I thought I knew about Bridget Boland’s play the minute I entered the Lyceum. The experience didn’t start from when the house lights dimmed, it started from when I set foot in the building. There were oil lamps on the floor, makeshift shelters set up on the stairs and tarpaulin hanging from any available surface. Tattered pieces of fabric were pinned to the walls; covering signs and declaring the theatre to be “under the control of the allied forces” in bold lettering and black paint.
The auditorium was almost unrecognisable - the stage had been stripped and reorganised, with rows of seats for the audience lined up at the back of the stage where the curtains had once been. There were more fabrics hanging from the stalls and the exposed lighting bridge, and ladders connecting the staging to the gallery and balconies. It was organised chaos. As for the actors, their performance started whilst we were piling in - they were milling around both the stage and the seating area, shouting to each other in an array of languages and scrambling up and down the ladders. This wasn’t just a performance of what life was like in a transit camp after the war, this was a transit camp; a theatre seized by the allied forces to store refugees from the war so they could be sent home - and we were part of it all.
The performance itself was a poignant re-enactment of the frustration and the struggle of post-war life. It was accurate to a fault, which benefited the play hugely but also held it back at points. Every individual had their own story and their own fears. There was a theme of complex paranoia throughout the performance, which was such a large part of post-war life; something I’d never stopped to think about before. The constant distrust and argument is the foundation of the plot; the Second World War had forced entire countries to betray and invade others, which resulted in spirals of anger and fear. This performance made me realise that I, like many others, had never given much thought to the aftermath of the war. Just because the war had ended, it didn’t mean that everyone affected was able to go back to their original lives. Boland highlighted the struggle of people who had already suffered so much trauma over the previous years: people who had lost their family, their friends and their homes from countries worldwide, were stuck in a German theatre - seized by the Brits and turned into a transit camp. The war was over, but public attitudes remained - people still harboured hatred towards their “former” enemies. The tension was always crawling around the stage, making an obvious appearance when there was conflict, and hiding in the shadows when the conflicts were “resolved” - I use the phrase loosely since the performance highlights the fact that, in a similar fashion to the war, just because men in uniform say an issue is resolved, it doesn’t mean the problem, the anger and the fear goes away.
As mentioned earlier, the accuracy of the performance had pros and cons; although it was fascinating and entertaining, at certain points I felt my mind wander, and at others I was quite confused. I do not mean for this to be a criticism of the quality of the performance or the script, quite the opposite in fact. I realised during the second half of the performance that, maybe I was supposed to be confused? Maybe I was supposed to be slightly tired? The script is a complex thing, with many layers to it, and it was clear that they had put in a lot of effort to submerge the audience in the performance - but maybe they put in even more effort than I first realised? In my opinion, the aim of the performance was to show exactly what it was like to be stuck in a transit camp, and they didn’t miss anything out. The war had ended, but the world had yet to clean itself up; there was a wide range of nationalities stuck in this transit camp, and many of them had something against other nationalities - which was understandable. However, the excessive arguments and complaints to the sergeant during the already extensive organisation planning left me feeling somewhat bored. And rightly so. Transit camps weren’t fun places to be - they weren’t exciting. There would’ve been a lot of organising and being organised, and the general distrust would’ve led to complaints from every direction.
The distrust was complicated - my confusion stemmed from it - because people would’ve been scared for lots of different reasons. The war created complex relationships between countries, and that led to complex fears. At certain points, I was lost as to why these people were so scared and so angry, but I think they were too. There were too many differing opinions, which was proven to have lethal consequences in the form of the War, and so it was easiest for many to trust nobody than to risk their own lives, especially when they were so close to freedom. In this performance, I didn’t follow all the arguments and my mind would wander away from what was happening onstage, however, once I was home I found my mind continuously wandering back to it all.
This performance was emotional, educational, thought provoking and made very interesting and relevant points about single-minded belief and its dangers. The complexities of the script must’ve been challenging to work with, and a struggle to turn into an engaging performance. However it was beautifully executed, and left you thinking about it for days after. It was unique and sobering, and I am glad that the struggles presented by the war and its aftermath have been condensed into a wholly enjoyable performance, which will remind us of our history for years to come.