Amongst the talk of the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival, it is important not to forget the International Festival: starting a week after the Fringe with a three week run, the festival is known for larger scale shows, in contrast to the backstreet venues that characterise the Fringe.
Back to Back Theatre’s production of Ganesh Versus the Third Reich is a particularly poignant, controversial and moving piece at this year’s International Festival. The company is based in Australia and is made up of actors with intellectual disabilities.
The play follows the Hindu God Ganesh in his attempt to reclaim the swastika (originally based on a Hindu symbol for wellbeing) from Hitler, making the journey from India to Germany. Along the way he befriends a boy who is Jewish and disabled, a prime victim of Hitler’s regime.
It is beautifully staged with a bare stage turned into layered forests and skies of scattered stars, using curtains of plastic sheets which are drawn across the stage. The actors stand between these layers of plastic, the lighting creating an ethereal atmosphere.
It is presented as a play within a play, so that this ethereal lighting stands at odds with the rehearsal room. Here the director is the only actor without an intellectual disability, leading to a sinister moment when he turns upon another member of the cast because he is unable to communicate successfully with him.
The rehearsal process is perhaps the more provocative counterpart, when the director demands of the audience why we have come to see these disabled actors, if not for a voyeuristic curiosity directed towards people who are different to us. It is a brave piece, addressing intellectual disabilities and the Holocaust simultaneously, as well as commenting upon the process of creating a piece of theatre.
At times it is funny, at times it is devastating. Most moving is the final image of Mark Deans hidden beneath a table in a game of hide and seek with the director. As the director walks away, footsteps fading, still half-heartedly calling Mark’s name, Mark is left on stage waiting, excited to be found.
A chance to see theatre from companies across the globe, the International festival is not to be missed, and Ganesh versus the Third Reich is a thought-provoking highlight.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs until the end of the month