Nine Suitcases

Sun 21st – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Helen Catt

at 12:27 on 28th Aug 2011

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There is only ever one man on-stage in Nine Suitcases, but with David Prince's gift for storytelling, it is not always easy to remember this. The stage seems to be filled with the shades of the characters he talks about, from the pretty young nurse to the train conductor. He tells them using a number of different accents. At first this felt a little odd – I was expecting the Nazi commandant to have a German accent, if any. But if there are as many German accents as there are English ones, then to lose the affects of the different accents by playing them all in a generic German one, would have lost some of the texture of the piece.

The music was composed and performed by Bethan Morgan, whose bleak violin solos and sharp military tattoos complimented the piece perfectly. The stage was bare apart from a chair in each of the four corners and a mattress in the middle – but again, with Prince's talent for storytelling, these chairs became a room in Budapest, a Quarantine Hospital and the ghettos of Hungary.

The vignettes told by Prince were graphic and desolate, capturing the sense of the Jews waiting for the Holocaust to happen to them. He told tales of hope even in desperation, and salvation from the most unexpected sources. The overwhelming impression was of a people entirely at the mercy of fate. There is never any self-indulgence about the play. Prince's character, a thinly disguised Béla Zsolt, accepts his fate without the least complaint - indeed, he points out the hypocrisy of complaining after he didn't stand up for crimes committed against other races.

When I saw Nine Suitcases, the audience was undeservedly sparse. It's difficult to believe that a show of this calibre has remained undiscovered for the whole of the Fringe season. It is an intensely powerful production that held utterly in thrall what little audience it had. Perhaps it's lack of a larger audience came from the venue's location, which was a little way away from the masses of the Royal Mile. Or perhaps it was the intense subject matter – but this shouldn't have intimidated people. There was no plucking of heartstrings here, it was simply a tale of one man's journey through all of the petty insults and theft of dignity that came from those nightmarish times. An honest and authentic account, it is one that is well worth watching.

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David Knowles

at 20:36 on 28th Aug 2011

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This adaptation of Bela Zsolt’s memoirs is a fascinating and moving account of one man’s experiences of the holocaust. The protagonist (the blurb tells us) is a ‘thinly disguised version of Bela Zsolt himself’. The team behind the show had thus set themselves a challenge; to convincingly portray and explore an autobiographical account of the holocaust on stage. This is perhaps the most difficult and trying modern theatrical test.

David Prince is a master story teller. Using just his voice and a few well chosen actions he draws us into a nightmarish world of Jews, Ghettos and the lengths human beings will go to escape death. Throughout the piece Prince is utterly compelling to watch. The decision by the director to make all the different voices Prince performed as accents of the United Kingdom rather than of Eastern Europe and Germany was also inspired. Simply put, no-one in the audience would have a clue what the difference between a southern Hungarian accent and a northern one is, so transplanting the characters and making them more familiar and thus relevant really did work.

Prince (with the aid of some lovely low key music provided by the multi-talented Bethan Morgan) created such believable scenarios that, in my exhausted state, I actually (out of the corner of my peripheral vision) started to see some of the characters Prince described, creeping and slinking in the background. I would like to believe this is testament to Prince’s ability and skill than my own tiredness.

The stage was simple and well-designed with every corner inhabited by a different object that would aid Prince in one stage of his story. The centre was covered with a dirty mattress on which the dishevelled and gaunt Prince started the piece (in a bombed out hospital). This simple set was used well by Prince and

I do believe that if this show was on in another venue it would draw sell out crowds every night. It deserved to be experienced by a far greater number of people than it (depressingly did). All in all, then, Nine Suitcases is a fantastically crafted exploration of the darkest moments of human history.

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