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The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner

Mudar Alhaggi

Collective Ma’louba

Factory International, Aviva Studios

March 21-23, 2024; 1hr 30 min, no interval

Joan Davies is deeply impressed by a simple, two-handed Syrian play that goes deep into the hunt for Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner
Mohammad Al Rashi (left) and Wael Kadour in The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner

Banner showing a four and a half star rating

The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner, by Syrian writer and director Mudar Alhaggi, is a striking piece of theatre that will stay for me for a long time, probably forever. 

Writer Mudar Alhaggi, a Syrian refugee in Berlin, discovers that the former senior SS officer Alois Brunner, responsible for sending over 100,000 European Jews to ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazi regime, fled to Syria as a refugee in 1954. Adolf Eichmann’s right-hand man escaped justice and, it is believed, became a security advisor to the Syrian secret service.

Mudar Alhaggi, fired by much more than the irony, seeks to find out more and wonders whether their paths might even have crossed.

The play opens with two actors who arrive to rehearse Mudar Alhaggi’s play. There is a collective approach to the writing and production but, finding themselves with only shreds of a script and incomplete research, the actors try to improve communications with Alhaggi, who has left messages, but seems to have disappeared. The play we see is their search for truth and meaning, and for Alhaggi.

Performances are almost entirely in Arabic, the language of the writer and actors, and are highly naturalistic. The actors, playing a variety of roles, immediately develop a rapport with the audience. Scenes jump backwards and forwards, and move between reality, supposition and sheer fantasy. Despite the serious nature of the subject matter – persecution, injustice, acceptance, surveillance and the return and revival of evil – there are many moments for laughter. The human spirit is never defeated, barely diminished. 

Wael Kadour, a Syrian actor and dramaturg, has extensive European experience of political theatre. His performance is natural, convincing and empathetic, particularly when playing a much younger, naive man. Mohammad Al Rashi, a Syrian actor, director, and musician, brings a mature and natural approach to all his roles, including the ageing Brunner – at moments he is able to bring a fleeting warmth even to that character. If this play was running longer than a few nights, I would happily return to study his performances in more detail, for he is outstanding. 

But my return would also be prompted by the difficulty I had at times following exactly what was going on. Delivering the play in Arabic, as the writer intended, is fine, but the subtitles, when every word is important, were a problem at times. They were displayed on only one small screen, roughly actor waist height, at the front of the stage. From the side they were not easy to view, particularly for someone relying on varifocals, and often seemed to move at the wrong pace. At the start, the actors mentioned trying to get the best place to display the subtitles. I was disappointed that Factory, with all the technology at its disposal, hadn’t worked more collaboratively to ensure accessibility for all. 

Some modern theatre runs the risk of being accused of delivering style over substance; The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner completely avoids that.

It is an outstanding piece of theatre and deserves a longer run – with better subtitles  

More info and tickets here


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