Shrewsbury School

Dayboys' House Play: 'Incident at Vichy'

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Director of Drama Helen Brown reviews a moving and powerful production, directed by Sixth Former Josh Evans.

Miller’s rarely-performed one-act drama, Incident at Vichy, was inspired by a true event. In a small town in Vichy France, a group of ‘undesirables’ – mostly Jews – were rounded up for an identity check before being shipped off to the Eastern concentration camps. In an extraordinary act of altruism, a Gentile who had just been released from questioning gave his pass to the last remaining Jew in the room, sparing that man from deportation and certain death.

Miller gives identities both to the nameless victims in that room, and to the men who put them there; with his characteristic moral complexity, he creates problematic, three-dimensional people where it would be easy to see cardboard-cut-out martyrs and monsters. As the play progresses, men come and go. Some, such as James Sykes-Waller’s snobbish businessman, are inexplicably allowed to go free, whilst others are dragged into the darkness. The sinister intentions of the doctor and the SS officer in charge of the operation – a genuinely terrifying Ed Hart and Matt Brinkley – become progressively more explicit and horrifying.

This was an ambitious choice for a House play, and I commend the Dayboys for grappling with such challenging and powerful material. Particular credit is due to Josh Evans, who has made his debut as a director with such a thoughtful, detailed piece of work.

The play gives the opportunity for a number of keenly observed cameo roles, each offering a different viewpoint on the unfolding tragedy. I would single out Frank Mansell as a wide-eyed and optimistic waiter, Cameron Hughes-Williams as a thuggish electrician and Ben Lloyd as a pompous and self-involved actor.

Perhaps Miller’s mouthpiece in the play is the psychiatrist Leduc. Having tried and failed to persuade his fellow captives to make a break for it, he challenges the Major in charge (Giles McLoughlin), a man of decent instincts who is nonetheless unwilling to risk his life to do the right thing. The Major responds by asking Leduc, with a gun to his head, whether if he were offered his freedom, at the cost of every other man’s life, he would refuse.

“No,” says Leduc.

It appears to be a bleak conclusion: we are all, when the chips are down, motivated by our own need to survive. However, hope comes in the impeccably attired form of Prince Von Berg (Oscar Mattinson).

Without reason or invitation, he hands his papers to Leduc, and faces the gas chambers in his place. Mattinson plays Von Berg with understated heroism; he fights the ‘vulgarity’ of the Nazis not with guns, but with kindness and culture.

In dark times, the play offers a reminder that violence does not need to beget violence, and that beauty and decency may be found in the most unexpected of places.

HRB

To open and scroll through a gallery of photos taken by Dr Richard Case, please click on the large image below:

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