"A Story Everyone Should Hear"by Miranda Berry on 29/01/09
As the lights went down at Greenwich Playhouse, I prayed that Galleon Theatre's world premiere of "Aristides- the Outcast Hero" would be sufficiently engaging to make me forget how uncomfortable my seat was.
The script by Alice de Sousa efficiently told a story which I felt slightly embarrassed to have known nothing of previously. Perhaps most comprehensibly described as the Portuguese Oscar Schindler, we learned that in 1940 Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese Consul in Bordeaux, disobeyed the Fascist Portuguese government by helping anyone who needed a visa, regardless of their politics, religion or race. He was punished by that government for helping some 30,000 people escape the Nazis. De Sousa Mendez lost everything including his good name, while his government claimed credit for his humanitarian work.
On a minimalist set the penetrating, powerful music and sound brought Bruce Jamieson's eminently watchable, filmic production to life. The well styled 1940s costumes added to the impression that this was a professional fringe company with high production values.
No doubt the fake moustache featured early in the first half was historically accurate and it was certainly well matched to the actor's hair colour. However it had the unfortunate effect of bringing to mind the British Airmen in the back room of Cafe Renee, which really seemed highly inappropriate.
The ensemble cast worked well together, and were on the whole enjoyable to watch. Suzanne Goldberg, narrating as The Woman, effortlessly linked the scenes with brief historical synopses. In the title role Michael Hucks gave a solid performance of a man quietly defying an inhuman ruling to save tens of thousands of lives.
In including the less impressive aspects of de Souza Mendez's personal life, Alice de Sousa's script retains its credibility. I enjoyed the look of disbelief on the face of Hannah-Jane Pawsey's Joana, as she watched her pathetic middle aged father being taken in by a brash, flirty, French woman. Robert Paul gave a convincingly subtle portrayal of by-the-book Seabra. His self serving jobsworth even provided a few moments of light relief.
It would have been easy for this production to overindulgently tug at the heart strings given the subject matter, but thankfully the script moves swiftly and unsentimentally on just as a lump begins to form in your throat. This production is not without fault, however on opening night, I saw an exceptionally strong fringe production which will surely improve with time. Galleon Theatre are renowned for producing translations of Portuguese work, but this play has a much broader appeal, it is a story which everyone should hear.
Event Venues & Times
Showing until 22/02/09
Greenwich Playhouse Greenwich Station Forecourt, 189 Greenwich High Road, London, SE10 8JA