Olga's Room

My story is…

d'Lëtzebuerger Land du 16.11.2012

Speaking in Tongues is the first professional English-speaking theatre company based in both London and Luxembourg. It was founded in 2010 by Bethan Clark, Larisa Faber and Ceridwen Smith, three actors who met at Drama Centre, London. They devise their own work and produce contemporary European plays in English, performing both in the UK and in mainland Europe.
Olga’s Room, Dea Loher’s very first play, is the second show they bring to Luxembourg. She wrote it after spending a year in Brazil in 1988 and discovering the story of Olga Benario, a 1930s freedom fighter. Now David Tushingham has translated the German text and Samuel Miller directs.
Olga, who was born in Munich to a Jewish family in 1908, joined the underground communist party as a teenager. She ended up in Moscow, where she was asked to accompany Luis Carlos Prestes, the upcoming leader of the Brazilian communist party, back to Brazil in 1934. Both of them were swiftly arrested and separated.
The “room” is the prison cell Olga (an absolutely electrifying performance by Bethan Clark) shares with other women prisoners before she is sent back to Germany as “an alien noxious to public order” although she is heavily pregnant. Anita, her daughter, is taken away from her and Olga ends up at Ravensbrück concentration camp. Then in 1942 she is sent to the extermination camp set up at the old psychiatric hospital in Bernburg, where she is gassed.
When the play opens, Olga is sharing the prison cell with Genny (Larisa Faber), a 17-year-old Romanian girl who begs her to break the silence and tell stories. Genny is desperate to escape into the past as well as into the world of the imagination in order to momentarily block out her own fear and helplessness. What she really hopes for is to be given a good story rather than the truth.
Very much unlike Filinto Müller (Raoul Schlechter), chief of police and the women’s interrogator, who refuses to listen to stories of any kind. He routinely tortures and humiliates in order to get a confession. His white shirt and tie and his glasses might make him look like an anonymous office clerk, but even his polished brown shoes take on a sinister note when set against the prisoners’ bare feet! Filinto’s sarcastic, wild undertone and his dirty laughter become part of the power games he enjoys playing. You will soon find out that his sadism knows no limits.
The inevitable intimacy between victim and victimizer might have you squirm on your seat as the women become his helpless victims. This is most obvious when a third prisoner, Ana Libre (an extremely moving Ceridwen Smith), is shoved into the cell, then taken away for interrogation and brought back in a state of near-madness. A spirit broken. A foil for Olga Benario’s dignified resignation.
Olga’s Room is not a play for the faint-hearted. It raises crucial questions about identity, about guilt and human integrity. The stage is stripped of any frills; the action is couched in pared-down language. Tension invariably builds up as conflict swiftly kills off complicity and the claustrophobia inside the cell becomes almost unbearable. Longer and often quite lyrical monologues alternate with quick exchanges whose stark, concise statements add to the intensity of the atmosphere.
In Luxembourg Speaking in Tongues performed in the Espace Nic Klecker at the Abbaye de Neumünster. The symbolism of the association will not be lost on anyone that remembers the work of one of Luxembourg’s most dedicated defenders of human rights. Nic would have applauded this dark and painfully convincing psychological study, I think.

Olga’s Room will be at the Arcola Theatre, London, from January 9 to 26, 2013
Janine Goedert
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