“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing”. Albert Einstein
Every now and then a story comes along that is so unbelievable, so inconceivable, that we wonder how it is possible that we have not heard it before. This is one such story.
Following sold out performances in the US, Arthur Feinsod’s play Coming to See Aunt Sophie is now making its Australian debut in Sydney for a limited run. Based on Jan Karski’s best selling memoir Story of a Secret State, this is the extraordinary true story of a how one man refused to turn away in the face of evil, and his unfaltering determination to inform a world that would not listen, of the atrocities he had witnessed.
Directed by Moira Blumenthal and including the versatile talents of Alan Lovell (Rake, All Saints, The Truth Game), Graeme McRae (Punk Rock, The History Boys, Uncle Vanya), Tim McGarry (Underbelly, Macbeth, Lilian’s Story ) and Beth Aubrey (Uncle Vanya, As You Like It, Anna Karenina), Karski’s story is brought back to life in an authentic portrayal that promises to be a gripping, emotionally challenging night of theatre.
The story begins in 1978, where an older Karski (Lovell) who is now a Professor at Georgetown University, has reluctantly agreed to relive the past once again for the cameras of French filmmaker, Claude Lanzmann (McGarry).
As the narration begins, the audience is quickly transported back to Poland, where a young, Catholic Karski (Graeme McRae) is working as a Reserve Officer until he is captured by the invading German and Russian forces. After being put on a train bound for Katyn Forest, and facing certain death, Karski miraculously escapes and returns to Poland where he joins the underground resistance movement as a courier for the now exiled Polish Government.
It is during his missions as a courier that Karski becomes increasingly aware of the unspeakable horrors that are being inflicted on the Jewish population at the hand of the Nazis. Sickened and haunted by all that he has witnessed, Karski’s missions soon turn into a desperate race to inform the world of the atrocities being committed, and to stop the Holocaust.
Armed with a photographic memory and various aliases, the audience follows Karski as he risks his life undertaking perilous missions throughout Poland, France, Britain, and finally the US, which culminates in a personal meeting with President Roosevelt (McGarry).
Thought provoking and deeply confronting, Karski’s story does not promise a free ride. There are moments in the play that will provoke feelings of anger, frustration and despair, and others that will no doubt leave the audience in a state of utter disbelief. The combination of Lovell’s emotive narration along with the raw and honest portrayals provided by McRae, McGarry and Aubrey leave the audience with nowhere to hide. But whatever your experience of the play, one thing is certain, this is a story that will stay with you long after the action is over, and this is one story that truly should.
Coming to See Aunt Sophie is playing at the Fig Tree Theatre, UNSW until 23 August 2015.
Review by Maryann Murray
Photos Aaron Murray