EIF 2014: Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Back to Back Theatre
Bruce Gladwin (director, devisor, designer), Mark Deans, Marcia Ferguson, Nicki Holland, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Kate Sulan, Brian Tilley, David Woods (devisors), Andrew Livingston (lighting designer), Mark Cuthbertson (set designer), Rhian Hinkley (designer and animator), Jóhann Jóhannsson (composer), Sam Jinks and Paul Smits (mask designers), Shio Otani (costume designer), Marco Cher-Gibard (sound designer), Alice Nash (executive producer).
Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Scott Price, Brian Tilley, David Woods.
Running time

"I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle." - Adolph Hitler.

Long before myth, in an ancient world without language, man organised himself around symbols, carved on the walls of caves and riding on the tails of comets. In fragile times an ancient Sanskrit symbol is wrenched from the gods by the Nazis, its power to be used for evil. Enraged, Lord Shiva, God of Destruction, prepares to destroy the universe unless his son, Lord Ganesh can secure its return.

The story will be not just a hero’s epic adventure into the heart of darkness but also of its making, as it starts with an almost empty stage and the actors discussing a new play about power. The backstage scenes are inter-cut with performances chronicling the dream-like journey towards Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

There are nightmares too as Ganesh and his young Jewish guide confront Dr Mengele, Auschwitz’s Angel of Death, who is obviously intrigued by Ganesh’s elephant head. He explains his love for the abnormal: defects, dwarfs, mongoloids, degenerative conditions. This is all the more powerful as the actors playing the other characters on stage would have been perceived to have intellectual disabilities and murdered had the Reich lasted.

As the harsh work-lights flick on the audience is dragged back to reality, or at least the fictionalised autobiography of the company. When some of the cast shed doubts about their right to take on the story, being neither Jewish or Hindu, the director tries to convince them it’s rich, exciting material. They feel manipulated as he distracts them with platitudes and an attack on the audience that they have come to see a zoo, some freak-show porn. His Increasingly violent and dictatorial behaviour, jeopardising his relationship with the actors, presages the final conflict between Ganesh, God of Overcoming Obstacles and Hitler.

This production looks at the control of power and questions what we can and can’t be told and by whom, and how we consume or engage with it. The edges are blurred between seeing the actors and characters and fiction or a representation of parts of the creative process.

It’s a remarkable work which manages to be challenging, funny and visually stunning. For an International Festival audience it might not be as edgy as this unique company intended, but it’s striking theatre which is ably performed.

Show Times: 9, 11 and 12 August 2014 at 7.30pm. 10 August 2014 at 2.30pm.

Ticket prices: £10 - £32 (concessions available).

Suitability: Contains strong language and adult themes that might not be suitable for children.