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Conspiracy / Cowards Anonymous

Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Three stars

If it wasn’t for the Swastikas and the SS uniforms worn by its participants, the meeting that formed the heart of RFT Theatre’s revival of Conspiracy, Loring Mandel’s stage version of his Emmy-winning screenplay for the 2001 HBO film of the same name, might be for a corporate away. As the sixteen men in suits proved over the next ninety minutes of Robin Osman’s production for the lo-fi Formation theatre festival, such everyday power-plays aren’t the only things that look familiar.

The play is a dramatic reconstruction of the 1942 Wannsee Conference, in which Germany’s Nazi government co-opted the grandees of assorted agencies into approving the final solution that led to the Holocaust. From the first 'heil Hitler' onwards, there is something chilling about how even the faintest glimmer of humanity is manipulated into submission or else simply shouted down by the loudest voice. By the end, as slickly realised sparring gives way to litanies of the men’s real life fates, the occasion more resembles a funeral.

Just as vital and equally as current was Cowards Anonymous, in which the audience were not so much greeted as mocked and cajoled into the room by a trio of characters wearing woolly masks who act as an undercover welcoming committee for an ill-defined convention of cowardice. Two known only as J and K tag-team their way through spleen-venting monologues that test their audience’s limits in terms of honesty and self-deception. A third, I, plays a morose piano at the back of the stage before they too reveal more than they’d bargained for.

Despite the casual air, director Tyler Mortimer’s production of Josh Overton’s script is a meticulously constructed if loose-knit provocation that sees performers Izzy Hourihane, Eilidh Albert-Recht and Ink Asher Hemp mix stand-up, cabaret and live-art to wilfully incendiary effect. With the company’s roots in the Hull-based Pub Corner Poets company, Cowards Anonymous pokes rudely behind the mask of everyday niceties to lay bare a series of brutal truths that might just make you braver.

The Herald, July 13th 2018


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