“What interests me is not what uniform a man has on,” says Nazi death camp commandant Franz Stangl at one point in Robert David Macdonald's piercing adaptation of Gitta Sereny's forensic journalistic dissection of Stangl. “It is what is inside the man.” The fact that his interrogator is Sereny herself, attempting to get to the root of how a lonely zither-playing boy can grow up to oversee one of the largest mass murders in history is a telling indictment, both of his own lack of self-awareness and his long buried desire to offload his previously unacknowledged guilt.
Behind plate glass in an austere grey prison office, Sereny peels back layer after layer of Stangl's psychological skin. Initially buttoned up in a tight-fitting suit, by the end of the play he's down to his shirt-sleeves. Where Cliff Burnett's Stangl appears wraith-like and haunted, he remains quietly cocksure as he wearily confronts his own crimes. In his presence, Blythe Duff as Gitta is steely as she listens to his matter of fact litanies of overseeing Treblinka's 'cargo' to the gas chamber while sporting a newly tailored white riding outfit.
With the pair flanked by Stangl's wife and other bystanders played by Molly Innes and Ali Craig, each scene of Gareth Nicholls' intense, slow-burning production is punctuated by an extended blackout and low rumbles of sound, as if the tape has run out, leaving gaps to ponder the magnitude of Stangl's actions. All of which makes for a deeply discomforting experience, made even more so by the reflections of the audience cast onto the glass by Stuart Jenkins' wilfully harsh lighting in a thrillingly mesmeric meditation on human cruelty.
The Herald, May 22nd 2015