Hotel Modern @ Space Theatre
8:30pm, Tue 12 Mar 2013
During the Festival Launch, Kamp piqued my interest, and it implanted itself into my memory. Tiny puppets, a reproduction of Auschwitz, promise of emotional battering… opening night tickets were a must.
My Event Buddy and I scored unbelievable seats: front row, nearly centre. In front of us lay (what we assumed was) a scale layout of Auschwitz, and – lifeless in its pre-performance state – it manages to convey a sense of coldness. Of desolation. Of hopelessness. Rows of little buildings and guard towers. Fences of barbed wire spanning the set. But it’s all so small… I start wondering how a performance will arise from this miniature set. I start wondering how much will be left to the imagination; how much is assumed knowledge. How much are we expected to fill in for ourselves.
The house lights drop; a screen behind the miniature camp lights up with the projection of a camera, as the performers of Hotel Modern scuttle around the set. Some control pinhole cameras, tracing them along paths for a first-person perspective on proceedings; others meticulously place figurines (single people, or boards of hundreds) into the camp. And then, accompanied by a soundtrack that tracks the time, they show us a Day in Auschwitz.
Morning: trains arrive. Thin rows of bedraggled and scared inmates leave the trains for the holding yards; the guards loom over them with derision. Existing prisoners are put to work in other parts of the camp whilst the new inmates are marched to their huts; one mis-performs his menial task and is shot dead. The day progresses, and there’s a cold and distant brutality on display; as night falls, this is contrasted with the forced joviality in the officers’ hut as the uniformed characters drink the terror away.
But there’s one scene that sticks with me more than all others. Not the cowering person beaten to death by the guards; not the camera tour through the gas chambers, crammed with lifeless fallen bodies. No – the scene which had the camera moving amongst a cluster of terrified, quivering beings in the shower blocks, looking up just in time to see a hatch open and gas canisters drop in… and the screen instantly cutting to black.
That left me stunned. Properly broken. I didn’t even notice my Event Buddy quietly weeping beside me; but my own tears wouldn’t flow. They were too shocked to leave my body.
That feeling – that hopelessness in the face of such barbarism – is not something that can be enjoyed. There’s no way that anyone could ever say that they “enjoyed” Kamp. And, when the house lights came up, it felt absolutely wrong to even consider applauding the performance… but the performers from Hotel Modern understand that.
My father hit his teens in the final years of World War II. In his pre-teens, he – as a German schoolchild – was subjected to the Nazi propaganda used to shape support for Hitler’s dictatorship… and yes, he was in Hitler Youth. It’s difficult to talk to him about those years, because he still harbours a deep shame for not seeing through the propaganda; he still feels ashamed and mournful for the actions of his country during that time. And I mention this because, even with this man in my life, desperate to correct the terrible sins of the past, I’d still forgotten how truly horrifying these events in our history were… and I think that, above all else, legitimises – if not necessitates – the existence of Kamp.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 12, 2013