‘People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.’ – Alan Moore
For obvious reasons, the lurch to the Right globally has been a major cause of concern, with regards the cessation of freedom of speech, nationalistic propaganda and the erosion of human rights. All these factors took place in during Hitler’s rise to power and the biggest worry is that modern politicians similarly use the rhetoric of ‘patriotism’ to push through unconscionable policies. Bearing this in mind, would you speak out today (or even in private) if there was a very real possibility that one could be executed?
Arrows and Traps Theatre have tapped into the zeitgeist by tackling the story of Sophie Scholl and The White Rose. Written and directed by Ross McGregor, the play highlights how the students of Munich showed the will of Germany’s educated youth to speak out, even if the rest of the country were blind-sided by rhetoric of fear.
The use of real footage at the beginning of each act with recordings by Joseph Goebbels really sets the scene – subliminally preparing the audience at an emotional level. Rather than take the predictable route of portraying events in chronological order, the play opts to dart back and forth between the interrogation in the ‘present’, and events over the previous months.
Initially a group of students who could speak freely amongst themselves about the state of Germany, one or two of ‘The White Rose’ decide that they need to do more that just ‘talk’. While they all have the same political convictions, the play does a good job of establishing how different the friends are in terms of temperament and what ‘qualities’ they bring to the group.
If there’s one theme that runs througout the play, it’s testing the soundness of one’s convictions. As the youngest member of the group, Sophie Scholl (Lucy Ioannou) is very much cut from the same cloth as her older brother Hans (Will Pinchin). However, the longer she spends with the rest of ‘The White Rose’, the more firmly she establishes her identity and become a beloved member in her own right.
Over the course of the play, we get to see many different sides of her. Yes, she’s brave, has ideals and empathty for her fellow man. She also has the same hopes and dreams of most people, in wanting to marry and grow old with her fiancé, appreciating the simple pleasures life has to offer. While she is resolute for most of the play, faced with her mortality, she understandably has her ‘Garden of Gethsemane’ moment, doubting the soundness of her actions and wondering if there might not be a God or afterlife after all.
Christopher Tester, who plays Robert Mohr is the perfect counterpoint to Ioannou. Both are earnest in their adherence of the ‘truth’ as they both see it. But while at first Mohr tries to get Sophie to confess her and her peers’ culpability in the dissemination of ‘propaganda’, once he has an idea of what makes her tick, he goes into ‘Pontius Pilate’ mode, and tries to give her every chance to let herself off the hook. But will she ‘help’ herself..?
While religious convictions drive Willi Graf (Alex Stevens) and familial commitments spur Cristoph Probst (Pearce Sampson) to go the extra mile, Alex Schmorrell (Conor Moss) tries to temper Hans’ idealism with a modicum of pragmatism. He’s also very much in love with Sophie…
Outside of ‘The White Rose’ we see how others’ values challenges Sophie’s – firstly her fiance Fritz Hartnagel (Freddie Cambanakis) who has gone to fight on the Eastern Front. Then there’s Else Gebel (Cornelia Baumann) – a Communist and fellow prisoner, who has a calm demeanour and knows how the legal system (such as it is) works. Last but not least there’s Traute Lafrenz (Beatrice Vincent). As the one person still alive today from the original group, it befalls to her chronicle the final days of ‘The White Rose’.
Between the well-developed characters across the board, the choreography that allows the scenes to effortlessly flow into each other and a myriad of other elements that tick all the boxes, The White Rose is an exceptional production.
Marking the 75th anniversary of Sophie Scholl’s death, The White Rose is a reminder that ‘speaking out’ is never a ‘passive’ option – that’s one’s words do matter and have consequences. It also serves to remind us that true bravery isn’t about being fearless, but being scared and doing the right thing anyway.
© Michael Davis 2018
The White Rose runs at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 4th August.