Mengele, which is hitting Edinburgh Fringe this August looks deep into the psyche of a man who was known both for his experimentation on Auschwitz inmates and his overseeing of their murder in gas chambers. Written by and starring Tim Marriott, Mengele is a warning from history that unveils what happens when the world succumbs to the politics of hate and bigotry. However, Tim is not just starring in one, not two but three shows across the Fringe with All Change and Shell Shock also.
Tim spoke to The Fountain about the three shows and having to adapt as well as admitting he is diving back into this business after almost twenty years of teaching.
TF: T?hree shows this year, what are the premises of them, how do they differ?
Yes, three shows, Mengele and All Change at Assembly and Shell Shock with [email protected]heFringe/Summerhall. These are all issue based theatre pieces, but differ in style and content. Smokescreen Productions aim to create engaging dramas to encourage audiences to consider issues from a different perspective, to change attitudes and create a lasting effect. We undertake detailed research, working alongside charities and including residencies and site visits, such as four days in Auschwitz-Birkenau in preparation for Mengele, volunteering and raising funds for a local hospice with All Change, or ‘behind the wire’ performances of Shell Shock at Aldershot and Plymouth as well as a week at the New Zealand SAS training camp in Auckland.
Mengele is a Holocaust themed drama, imaging the notorious doctor of Auschwitz on the beach where he drowned in 1979 where he is confronted by a mysterious figure that he assumes to be a local woman who has ‘saved’ him. As he seeks to defend the indefensible, the play echoes the rhetoric of the past and draws comparisons with some of the political rhetoric that we hear today. The show supports the Holocaust Educational Trust and is endorsed by the Amud Aish Memorial Museum in New York. Mengele is performed by myself and Stefanie Rossi as ‘Azra’, coming all the way over from Adelaide.
All Change is a gentle comedy on the fragility of age, crossed wires and switching tracks. Ivor plays with his trains as his daughter Lily tries to pack up his things in preparation for life in a ‘home’… but Ivor won’t go quietly…. as fast as she packs, he unpacks, and so the games begin. Based on the experience of living with dementia and ill health within a family, it is a light touch piece, finding plenty of humour within a story that is both poignant and personal. I play Ivor and our brilliant, versatile Australian performer Stefanie Rossi will play Lily, having rehearsed over Skype…
Shell Shock is a solo show, adapted from an acclaimed diary of an ex-soldier (Shell Shock: The Diary of Tommy Atkins by Neil Blower), commenting on his attempts to fit into civilian life after a long career in the army. As he rages against the absurdities of the every day, from Ikea to ‘phone zombies, it’s clear he’s not quite right… Described as “that group therapy session where no-one wants to be the first to speak… well, ‘Tommy’ is about to kick off and get that conversation going”, ‘Shell Shock’ is conceived as a stigma reduction project, encouraging those affected by the symptoms of anxiety, stress or trauma experience to identify, open up and join the conversation… The show is therefore followed by a talk back. Developed in conjunction with serval military and mental health charities such as Help for Heroes, Combat Stress, Walking with the Wounded and Stand Tall for PTS.
TF: Do you find it difficult to dip in and out of different productions or are you a dab hand at it by now?
Not a ‘dab hand’ at all! I’ve been out of the business for seventeen years and tried a little toe in the water last year with a one week run of Mengele and produced another actor in a younger version of Shell Shock. After EdFringe and a season in New York as a ‘Fringe Encore Winner’, I lost an actor at very short notice before a UK gig of ‘Shell Shock’ and had to take that on too, adapting the story to an older ex-soldier… I then did both at Adelaide Fringe, but on alternate days. Doing both on the same day, alternating with a new show, is going to be a challenge, but takes me back to TIE and Panto days, regularly doing two or even three shows in a day. It’ll keep me fit… I hope…
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, have you been before?
Plans…? Ah… Well, to try and get an audience and maybe some interest in taking the plays further afield? Although I was acting for twenty years before a teaching career, until last year’s brief visit I’d never been, so although I am as old as the hills, I am still very much a Fringe novice.
TF: And what are your future plans beyond Fringe?
After the Fringe we’re heading back to Australia to tour Shell Shock with the charity Stand Tall for PTS, ending up in Sydney to perform alongside the Invictus Games. Then we will be touring Shell Shock and Mengele back in the UK to coincide with Remembrance in November and Holocaust Memorial in January. This year, of course, marks 100 years since the end of WW1 and yet society still fails our ex-military affected by their time in service. Next year marks 75 years since the first liberation of death camps at Madjanak, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka, and yet, as time takes away the first hand witnesses to the Holocaust, so denial becomes more and more widespread and the lesson of history is clearly ignored or lost on our current political leaders as the politics of fear, hatred and bigotry rule.
Mengele, Assembly George Square Theatre, The Box, 12:20 (50 mins), 2-8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, August. Previews 2,3 August.