I once came across an unforgettable quote from a Jewish prisoner of the Nazi regime, supposedly written on the wall of a concentration camp at Mauthausen. “If there is a God,” it said, “he will have to beg my forgiveness.” This very idea is what lies at the core of God On Trial. It’s a fascinating notion, whether God can be guilty, and one that makes for some thrilling and passionate performances in this play.
This production is an adaptation of the 2008 television play written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, although the story and the idea itself harks back further. The plot is minimalistic. A group of male prisoners at Auschwitz Concentration Camp, half of whom have just been sentenced to death, decide to put God on trial for their sufferings. The trial brings forth details of the prisoners’ individual experiences. These separate perspectives not only add complexity in the theatrical sense, but help avoid that common mistake so many historical fictions make, of assuming there is one single story to tell.
When I saw the play on opening night, it was crammed into C Nova’s Studio Five – a space that provides barely enough room for over a dozen actors to move. No matter, Auschwitz bunkers were hardly roomy, and a trial by court isn’t something you need much physical theatre to portray. In fact, the sense of being stifled is most likely what this production was trying to achieve – stifled by people, music, the noise of the outside world. The production and staging team have done very well to bring that feeling into reality.
All of the performances from the actors of Cambridge University’s Amateur Dramatic Club are superb, but I must single out Tris Hobson and Cam Truscott as the Rabbi Akiba and the Blockalteste (block leader) respectively. Hobson’s performance was fiery and utterly convincing, while Truscott brought subtlety and humanity to a character that is so easily loathed. All the actors did justice to a beautiful, haunting script.
Overall, it’s an emotional and very interesting watch. But if you’ve come to the Fringe for a fun day out, I would leave this off the itinerary. It’s a piece of drama that makes you think deeply about faith, hope and justice, and with no real conclusion (as is probably expected), it may leave you frustrated. Then again – good theatre is never an experience that one cruises through benignly.