The question of terrorism

From an early 2014 perspective, India surviving the global economic recession in the coming years seems plausible. In fact, many of us are hoping that the general elections will bring a progressive government which will consolidate matters and ensure India’s stability politically, economically and socially. However, there is the question of terrorism which has been shadowing us for the past 11 years.

Everyday there is some report or the other on terrorist activities disrupting – or threatening to disrupt – life in India. Terrorism has become so commonplace that I worry that the people of my country may accept it as they accept the beleaguered traffic on the roads, the power cuts in their homes and offices, or the coming of the monsoons every year. Soon, I fear, terrorism may become a part of the fabric of normal Indian life.

What’s dangerous about terrorism in India is that it is not just an ideological or a political viewpoint, but one that combines the worst of these two with strong religious and ethnic lineage and sentiments. Indeed, we have a history to prove it. Since Independence, and much earlier, these sentiments and differences have been hard-wired into us – and into Pakistanis – and it’s unlikely that they will be expunged soon.

How much economic disruption and damage can this terrorism cause? I have no answer to that. But we should give it a thought.

The Great Dictator, Arturo Ui

Adolf Hitler has fascinated many people – not only during his rise to leadership in Nazi Germany, but over the years. He has been, and still is, at the centre of much research and talk… and even filmmaking. Everyone from people who suffered during WW II in Europe to historians, sociologists, psychologists, military strategists, management gurus to school children have heard of and discussed Hitler sometime or the other.

A niece of mine who had worked at a bookstore in Mumbai once told me that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was one of the highest-selling books at the store. What explains this? No idea. Except that, perhaps, in spite of his delusion, autocracy and cruelty, Adolf Hitler is a fascinating subject for many people. Some may revere him even today.

From all of this, two works of creativity stand out in my mind. First, The Great Dictator, a film by Charlie Chaplin released in 1940. And the other, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a play by Bertholt Brecht written in 1941. While Chaplin’s film is an all-time great work of art and acting, winning favour from adults and children all over the world, Brecht’s play is less well-known, particularly among Indian audiences.

It’s a coincidence that both Adolf Hitler and Charlie Chaplin were born in April 1889 (a few days of each other); Hitler in what was then Austria-Hungary and Chaplin in London, UK. The two men did not meet each other. A story suggests that Chaplin decided to work on The Great Dictator when a friend of his, Alexander Korda, remarked on the physical similarities between the two men and, upon doing some research, Chaplin found that both Hitler and he had both struggled to achieve what they had attained in their respective fields.

The Great Dictator is a parody of Adolf Hitler. The film’s hero, played by Chaplin, is a dictator called Adenoid Hynkel; but the resemblance to the real Hitler is indeed fantastic. In fact, many of the other characters in the film bear resemblance to actual men in Hitler’s coterie. Although Chaplin deals with many of the issues from Hitler’s life and the history around that time, the focus in The Great Dictator is on the delusional mind of Adenoid Hynkel.

When The Great Dictator was released in 1940, or when Chaplin had started work on the film two years earlier, Hitler’s atrocities were not so well known. Apparently, Chaplin had later said that, had he known about the real atrocities of the Nazis, he may not have introduced so much comedy in the film. Needless to say, Hitler had banned The Great Dictator from being screened in all German-occupied territories. But, a rumour exists that Hitler had seen a screening of The Great Dictator once.

Unlike Chaplin, who had the freedom of making films in Hollywood, German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht, born nine years after Hitler and Chaplin, and a Marxist to boot, lived in fear of Nazi persecution. In 1933, when Hitler came into power, Brecht fled Germany, first to Denmark and then to Sweden, Finland and finally to the United States. It was in Finland in 1941 that Brecht wrote the play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. However, the play was not staged in English for another 20 years.

My introduction to The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was almost 30 years ago in Kolkata, when the play was staged simply as Arturo Ui. Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is about a small-time gangster in Chicago, called Arturo Ui, who takes control of the cauliflower business in Chicago by getting rid of his opponents one by one. The play, and the characters within it, all have a strong resemblance to Hitler and his cronies, and the setting describes Germany just prior to Nazi rule.

Like The Great DictatorThe Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a parody of Hitler and the Nazis, staged in a larger-than-life style, highlighting not just the evil ways that Hitler/Ui adopted in his rise to power, banning all opposition, but also the sense of the dramatic that he (both Hitler and Ui) seemed to possess and use to win his audience over. Of course, unlike Chaplin’s film, Brecht’s play has strong Marxist or anti-Fascist undertones, drawing parallels between actual German history and the scenes in his fictional play.

A collective enterprise

Hitler’s hatred for Jews was hinted at, and later communicated, freely in his speeches. He blamed them for Germany losing WW I and for draining his country economically, which he believed led to the suffering of the German people. For these reasons, in 1939, Hitler had been contemplating expulsion of Jews from Germany. Then, why did he, by mid-1941, change his mind to order the extermination of Jews? Wouldn’t a simple expulsion of the Jews from Germany have been enough? Why death?

Some people suggest, and some even insist that there is proof to show, that Hitler and the Nazis were greatly influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. That, Darwin’s theories of ‘natural selection’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ were behind the Nazi ideal of a master race – a pure(r) ‘Aryan’ race. That, Hitler and the Nazis had used Darwin’s theory to brainwash millions of Germans into believing that they were radically superior to other human beings in the world.

Apparently, though speaking against slavery, Darwin himself believed that some races like the blacks from Africa were genetically inferior to the white Caucasians. Hitler had built upon this theory to attack the Jews as a genetically inferior race. And, the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews during WW II was a direct derivative of the German ideal of a superior race based upon Darwin’s theory. But the interesting thing is, this belief was so widespread and so deep in the minds of the German people, that the Jews simply had no chance.

And, that’s what’s so shocking about the extermination of the Jews!

British TV producer and author Laurence Rees brings this fact out in the open in his book and his BBC TV series, Auschwitz: The Nazis & ‘The Final Solution’. Rees’ book and films reinforce the fact that, although it’s true Hitler had given the order to exterminate the Jews, the actual killings were carried out by ordinary men (and women) collectively, without any remorse.

Here’s an excerpt from the ‘Introduction’ of Laurence Rees’ book:

“Tracing how Hitler, [his Chief of SS, Heinrich] Himmler, [Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard] Heydrich and other leading Nazis created both their ‘Final Solution’ and Auschwitz offers us the chance to see in action a dynamic and radical decision-making process of great complexity. There was no blueprint for the crime imposed from above, nor one devised from below and simply acknowledged from the top. Individual Nazis were not coerced by crude threats to commit murders themselves. No, this was a collective enterprise owned by thousands of people, who made the decision themselves not just to take part but to contribute initiatives in order to solve the problem of how to kill human beings and dispose of their bodies on a scale never attempted before.”

[Citation: Auschwitz: The Nazis & ‘The Final Solution’ by Laurence Rees, a BBC Book, 2005.]


Jane Arnfield and ‘The Tin Ring’ – Part 2

Jane Arnfield is a stage actress from the UK. She was here in Mumbai (with Tony Harrington) at the Tata LitLive festival last year, performing at the NCPA. It was an amazing solo performance one evening in an open stage with only a chair as a prop. She had the entire audience of a few hundred people (seated, some standing, around her) riveted for an hour.

Jane was performing a specially-scripted piece from the story of a WW II holocaust survivor, Zdenka Fantlova. The performance was called ‘The Tin Ring’ and was based on Zdekna’s published memoir (also called ‘The Tin Ring’).

This is the second part of my interview with Jane Arnfield (and Tony Harrington). You can read the first part of the interview here – where I also provide a longer introduction to Jane Arnfield.

Tony Harrington of ‘In The Forge’ – Jane’s collaborator on ‘The Tin Ring’ project – also joins us in the concluding part of the interview.

[All photos courtesy Jane Arnfield.]

Is anybody going to accompany you… in terms of music or…?

“There are two sound cues: the piece opens with a piece of music, when Zdenka chooses to learn English. It is a Hollywood musical Broadway melody. She loved to sing it fanatically. That’s how she realised she wanted to learn English. That opens the piece. And there’s another piece of music which is Arno whistling. Arno used to whistle under her window when he wanted her to come out… before they went to Terezin… a kind of tune… a love song. So, there are just two sound cues. No lights… I mean there are lights, but no light changes on stage. I see the audience and they see me. I have to be able to see the audience… I can’t make it if I can’t see the audience. So, it’s very open. One chair. That’s the only prop. And it’s a dress. A simple black dress. And it’s about 62 minutes, I think.”

I think it says 68 minutes…

“… that’s interesting. We reduced it. Because, what we found is that, the audience need less and less information… because they could see it themselves… they didn’t need me… so we reduced it and reduced it… but I don’t think it’ll reduce anymore now… because you find that…”

… that imagination does the job… and that your acting is just the trigger…

“… yeah… and that was very important for us… because there’s a lot of material which is written obviously by experts on the holocaust, but we didn’t want to look at it and…”

… duplicate it…

“… yeah duplicate it… exactly… and also because we aren’t experts in that area of history… We aren’t historians. But what’s important is that, somehow, by seeing the individual, you see the history. It becomes a part of us. The ring gave us licence to go to those places. Zdenka went to six camps before the war finished. And two death marches. But you couldn’t go to those places unless you got a reason… and we needed a reason… and the ring is the reason. So, when we go to Auschwitz, we go there because we are following the ring. We’re not telling the audience that now we’re going to Auschwitz. There’s a reason to go… and that gives us a licence… and that’s very important for the history…”

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

… that’s the string that connects everything. And after your performance, you said that you needed to feel the audience… because of the connection that happens. Is there any interaction during or after the performance?

“That’s a very good question. There is interaction apart from there is interaction. Because when they look at me and smile or look sad or whatever they’re doing… it kind of feeds whatever we are making together… and the text is scripted, it’s not improvised… it’s a set text… but I’m not blocked… I can go wherever I like… so the direction works like… if it feels right to go over there, you go over there… if it feels right to sit down, you sit down. Eventually that’ll become stale, so you have to find something… you don’t just sit down for the sake of it. It’s always about trying to make it different every night. It’s in the sense of being in the moment… in being spontaneous even though it’s structured. But what happens is that people wait after the performance… and ask to talk to me… a little bit about me but more about themselves… about what they have suddenly remembered… a story they had forgotten… or they want to phone somebody because they remembered a story they told them… about their father, could be an aunt, a sister or cousin, or could be a friend… and people stop to tell that story as it had come back to them. And it seems to go across the ages… from people who are 78 to young people who are 19… remembering things… and nothing to do with that period of history…”

… the play triggers another million stories…

“… yeah, yeah… and they seem to vocalise it… I’ve got letters from people saying ‘I haven’t talked about this story… I haven’t said anything about this thing that happened… and now I’m going to write it down or tell one person.’ And that’s what this piece is for, isn’t it? It’s about exchange of stories. I don’t know why it surprises me, why they do it… but it does surprise me. I feel very privileged to be in a position where one story is unlocking others… it doesn’t surprise me it’s this story, because this story is so powerful… Zdenka’s world is so powerful… it means the spectator, the audience, completely enriches it. So I look at myself as a conduit really… you know, it goes through me as a performer… and I use accents, I speak in the first person, the third person, I’m different people… I’m Jane always, the storyteller… that’s always visible… but there are different ways and devices that we use to tell the story.

But, somehow, the audience is allowed to own it. I didn’t want to replicate or imitate Zdenka. It’s about a passing on. And that, I think, comes back to the reason that Zdenka allows this to happen. She’s going to be 92 in next March… and she knows that she’ll have five maybe ten years left, if she is lucky. And she is very concerned about what happens when the first-hand testimony goes. Because she’s allowed to say things because they happened to her. And because that period of history is so strong in people’s minds. And the way that historians and everyone look at it… a kind of first-hand testimony from someone who was there… her pragmatism takes away your breath really. For her, it’s making sure that somehow her words stay.”

Has this kind of thing been done before? Is it a genre of performance or theatre…?

“… well, in the UK, in the last few years, there’s been various kinds of debate and documentaries on what is real… there’s a lot terminology about new ways of telling stories. To me, it’s telling stories… that’s what theatre is. At its very best it’s Peter Brook drawing a circle in the sand and standing in the middle and that’s a performance. There are pieces that have been done definitely… it’s not anything new at all… and, I think, the director is quite brilliant in the way he uses the form or device in order to tell a story… I mean, he’s a master at it, Mike Alfreds… he has worked for many years throughout the world and really understands the mechanics, the mechanisms, of telling a story in the theatre. And the power of the material, in this case, suits the mechanism used here.”

I was thinking, this could trigger off people who would start doing their own thing… whether they are theatre people or not…

“… yeah…”

… if they could practice it in their own way… which means it could go into a bedroom or drawing room… and people using this to communicate to unravel things which are locked up inside them… it could become therapy of some kind…

“… yeah… I think there’s an idea of some kind of catharsis… it’s not the catharsis of the performer… or even the host… Zdenka’s catharsis has been her own… it is the catharsis of the audience. ”

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

Can you tell me something more about ‘Human Remain’? Then ‘The Forge’ and ‘Suitcase full of Stories’.

“’Human Remain’, as I mentioned, is only just launched. It’s a holding company for me to put the pieces I have been making. I was teaching a seminar… I’m also a principal lecturer and performer in some of the universities… with my students… and we were looking at a play and looking at texts and something in the text jumped at me… something about human beings… about individuality… about human remain… and I thought ‘human remain’, ‘human remain’… something about ‘human remain’ I thought was important and I felt it was an appropriate title for the company… and the tag line is ‘performance from the human for the human with the human’. It’s about the live acts that we are making as theatre.”

[Tony Harrington, Jane’s friend and colleague from ‘In The Forge’, joins our conversation.]

Tony, what’s ‘In The Forge’ all about?

Tony:  “’In The Forge’ is an arts organisation based in the UK. We work with young people and their families. The programme impacts approximately 20,000 young people a year.”

Through communities and schools?

Tony:  “Schools, communities… wherever we find people. We do it for two reasons: one, art-making has a value in itself. Great art can be made by communities and non-professional performers. Also, there’s transformational impact from creative processes. And, it can help change people’s lives. In a sense that’s why we are interested in working with ‘The Tin Ring’ as a piece of theatre… transforming people’s views and understanding. Equally, we want to create an educational programme that draws out the learning from ‘The Tin Ring’. More and more people can (a) be aware of Zdenka’s story, and (b) feel the impact in their lives.”

Yeah, how their lives can change by unlocking their minds and hearts…

Jane:  “And ‘Suitcase of Survival’ because Zdenka talks about Last Aid. Not first aid, but Last Aid. That everybody has this box of Last Aid… you don’t know what’s in it till you’re in a crisis. And so ‘Suitcase of Survival’, SOS, came out of that. But I also like the way you said ‘suitcase full of stories’ because, actually, that’s what it is. It’s beautiful though, that’s what it is.”

Tony:  “And that’s what happens with the show. People are often inspired to come and share their own stories afterwards because, they may not have had a relative who’s been through Zdenka’s experience, but within the piece, there seems to be universal values, spirit and conditions… that people want to relate to and discuss. For us at ‘The Forge’, it’s to find ways to do it creatively and teasing out the thinking around the people.”

Is SOS a programme?

Jane:  “Yeah. It’s a deliverable programme. It may be one day or four days or two weeks. It can be, you know, bespoke. If an organisation were to come to ‘In The Forge’ and say ‘We’re working with this group of refugees, or this group of elderly people, or this group in a hospital’…”

… you’ll tailor the programme accordingly.

Jane and Tony:  “… yeah.”

So, after this evening, where do you go?

Jane:  “Well, on Monday night, I’m performing at Surrey University.”

Yeah, I saw on your website 18th November or something… gosh, it’s like the day after tomorrow.

[We all laugh]

Jane:  “But we do hope to come back to India. One of the reasons being that, the fact that we were invited to the Mumbai Lit Fest might, hopefully, allow us to come back next year or in 2015. And, to deliver ‘Suitcase of Survival’ as well… as performances throughout India… if possible.”

Obviously you’ve come through the British Council. They have programmes every now and then. So, if you stay in touch with them…

Tony:  “The Arts Council and the British Council have been incredibly supportive of this piece… and we are very grateful for that.”

Jane:  “And the festival director said ‘This piece seems to gather people, so that’s what you need.’ So, there’s Surrey University; then a very small gap; then Australia. To Sydney… to the Jewish Museum in Sydney. Then Wollongong University.”

Tony:  “Then in the New Year, we have a performance in Durham Cathedral… which should be fantastic.”

Yes, I’m sure it will. Well, it’s late. You have to go now and get ready for your performance. Thank you very much for the interview.

Jane and Tony:  “Thank you so much.”


[This is the concluding part of my interview with Jane Arnfield (and Tony Harrington). Read the first part of the interview here.]

Here are a few links to information on Jane Arnfield and Tony Harrington:

The Tin Ring


Human Remain

In The Forge


Jane Arnfield and ‘The Tin Ring’ – Part 1

Jane Arnfield has been a theatre practitioner for the past 22 years, having graduated from Dartington College of Arts in 1988 with a BA (Hons) in Theatre. She has been a member of three ensemble companies: Mike Alfreds Method & Madness, The David Glass Ensemble incorporating work with the Lost Child Project in South East Asia, South America and Europe and the Northern Stage Ensemble. Jane has worked with a range of international theatre directors, including Richard Gregory from Quarantine, on a number of site-specific projects.

Jane is committed to researching; constructing and disseminating theatre practice within schools and for four years worked with Cassop Primary School in County Durham as an artist in residence. Jane won the Journal Culture Award 2009 for Performance Event of the Year, and has been the Artistic Director for the Newcastle Holocaust Memorial event for 2010 and 2011. The themes of her solo theatre work since 2003 have been to question the nature of biographical theatre.

I met Jane Arnfield (and Tony Harrington) in November last year at the Tata LitLive 2013 festival at the NCPA in Mumbai where Jane was performing one evening. Actually, we met at another show the evening before her performance, and started a conversation immediately. I loved her warm and affable nature, and when I requested her for an interview, she was kind in giving me one… just before her performance the next evening. Here’s the first part of that interview:

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

[All photos courtesy Jane Arnfield.]

Great to meet you Jane.

“Thank you very much.”

Tell me a little bit about Jane Arnfield; about this specific project ‘The Tin Ring’; about Human Remain; about anything that’s important about the work you do.

“My name is Jane Arnfield. I live in the UK; in the North-East of England, in Newcastle upon Tyne. And, for 24 years, still am actually, I’m an actress. I’ve worked in traditional theatre, Shakespear’s Globe in London. I did Cymbeline with names like Mark Rylance. I’ve worked for Ensemble companies and toured with them internationally. And in 2003, I decided I wanted to work on my own. I don’t mean just on my own because there’s a big team that works for you. But I wanted to be on stage on my own because I wanted to know what it felt like to make just a piece of work relate to an audience. I’m very interested in understanding the relationship between the audience/spectator and the performer. And at its sharpest, if I did a solo piece of work, or solo pieces of work, that I may be able to kind of co-construct and work with them as well. So, they become the ensemble.”

What was your first project?

“The first project was called ‘Geneva’ and it was about why people climb mountains. I have always been interested in risk. Why people take risk. What risk means to people. And, what we think of humanity at risk. And I’m most interested in survival. The two things go together. And I was very interested in why people choose to… why do they put themselves in a position of danger. Potentially. So, I walked to Everest base camp; and I interviewed climbers along the way. It was extraordinary. I had three questions: Why do you climb mountains? What’s it like when you get to the top? And what does risk mean to you? And then, from that I made a piece of theatre… a performance.”

That means you wrote the script…

“… yeah. I’ve made three solo pieces so far. ‘Geneva’ – about mountains. Then I made ‘The Gymnast’. In 2008, which was about the Cambodian genocide. What happened between 1975 and 1979 with the Khmer Rouge. I worked with the Documentation Centre in Cambodia and I gathered people’s testimony that they were archiving. Then I came across Fantlova’s memoir, ‘The Tin Ring’, and I adapted that with my pieces of performance. Every point of entry for me, the solo pieces that I have made, have actually come from text… have come from people’s testimony. Either written in a book and published; or written down as a record, as a document’ or spoken and then written down afterwards.”

The real stuff.

“Yeah. I’m interested in people’s testimony. I’m interested in truth. And for me, truth isn’t about one thing; there’s no definitive truth; everybody’s truth is their truth. So, this piece is not about me; it’s not about the holocaust; it’s about Zdenka. ‘The Tin Ring’ is about Zdenka Fantlova’s truth.”

So, what have you been doing between 2003 and now?

“Well, in 2003, I made ‘Geneva’. Then, in 2008, I made ‘The Gymnast’. And in 2010, I started working on the ‘The Tin Ring’. So, these were over a period of time. ‘Human Remain’, my company that I’ve set up, was launched only in December 2012. And really was because I felt I needed a holding place for these pieces of work that I was making. So, that’s where that came from. All the work I was doing was about the individual in epic circumstances. We look at the epic intimately… and we look at one person’s story among other people’s stories. And, critically, what seems to be happening in all three pieces is that the audience starts thinking about their own stories. So, all these pieces of work, particularly ‘The Tin Ring’, are catalysts for the unravelling of the spectator’s story. And that’s what interests me the most. For me, it’s about… it doesn’t offer answers, but offers opportunities in forums to discuss how to live.”

How does one of these performances go? Do you introduce the story before the performance? Or, do you start performing right away?

“No. I’ve worked with a brilliant director, Mike Alfreds, and we looked at it differently. The book is huge, so we had to find ways in order to make a narrative. We didn’t even know if it would be dramatic. It worked beautifully as a memoir but that’s not necessarily going to turn into theatre. So, we had to look at what was dramatic and what we thought would work. And, we had three stages: before the catastrophe, the catastrophe, and then afterwards. And all the way through it. The ring, the tin ring, which is a symbol of love. Zdenka was given a ring by her first boyfriend; and she kept that with her throughout the catastrophe; and she still has it. It became a symbol of hope. And it’s really about her survival and her mechanisms, and her deployment of her mechanisms to survive.”

And endurance.

“And endurance. Absolutely. She also said that she’s not heroic; she’s pragmatic. She said there were very many factors that contributed to her survival. And, if she were here, she would list those. Luck would be one of them. Being young and healthy. She had family. She had no family after the war, but during the war. She weren’t married, so didn’t have children. So she had just herself to think about. She was in love. And she says that was the most important thing. Because she had a reason to continue. To be with Arno when the war would finish. And this ring that he made for her when they were interned was like a symbol of engagement.”

This was something physical, tangible, which strengthened her hope…

“Absolutely, absolutely…”

… that this is something which is with me though he is not here…

“… yeah, it became a symbol. It became a symbol for everything. She realised that this would be a symbol… a kind of recognition of what had been civil… of civilisation…”

… of what she went through during the war and afterwards…

“… yeah. She was an extraordinary woman. She’s 92 and she now lives in London. She’s from Czechoslovakia originally… and she used the ring to get through the situation.”

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

Image courtesy Jane Arnfield

Tell me more about her story. You’ve read her memoir. How did you go about adapting it to the performance that we are all going to see tonight?

“Well, it was a very slow process. We had time; and we wanted it to take time because it was important. Because, all along the way, we didn’t know if it was going to work. We kind of… we didn’t have an end goal. We wanted to make a script but we didn’t know how we were going to do that. So, Mike Alfreds, with whom I was going to work, had a theory, and exercises, and ways to excavate things from the text. Basically, we took it to pieces. So, I followed her timeline. We extracted everything she said about the ring. We extracted everything before the war, everything that was said about her father… We took extracts from the texts… it’s like being an archaeologist… and we kind of dusted them… and saw connections and put things together and tried different compositions. The things that were very strong were the ring, her love for Arno, her youth… and there was also the idea of her learning English… which comes out in the play as something that saved her. Basically, it’s the idea that sometimes we do things subconsciously, or we do things we don’t know why and they…”

… they help us later…

“… later…”

… that they have significance in a person’s life…

“… yeah, absolutely. And I think we like those kind of stories in life also…”

… things which, at one moment, may even seem accidental or whimsical…

“… yeah. Brilliant!”

So, you extracted these bits and made points upon which her life hinged. For instance, you talked about the ring and her love. So, what was the next step?

“The next step was to make a piece of performance. We got a grant from the Arts Council. A small grant that allowed us to do a creative residency in theatre every five days. So Mike Alfreds and I had been working for a year… maybe longer on the text… and we had lots of different pieces of text… and then, for four days, we worked solidly, trying different ways to do it… and then we did a performance… two performances… and we invited Zdenka to see those. But they were not just for her, they were for other people as well… there were seventy-five people… invited people… there was no selling of tickets… just a showing and a sharing… an opportunity for Zdenka to see what we have done… and for her to say a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. But she had to see it with other people because she had to see what it felt like to see it with others. We just didn’t want to do it in her sitting room. It had to be as it would be on stage. And fortunately, she endorsed the project.”

That means it was already scripted out…

“… yeah…”

… but it was a version which was a rough-cut kind of a thing…

“… yeah. We had one strand. We had 30-minutes. We made 30-minutes of performance. So it was endorsed and we went back to the Arts Council to see if we could raise more funds. And when we went back, we had done work for seven and a half weeks rehearsing. It took me another seven months to raise the money… and to get everything in place… and then we went into full rehearsals. In June 2012, we had a theatre in Salford, The Lowry, and we were going to premier it. And we had a brilliant library in Newcastle where we were going to premier it. So, we had two venues for which we had to secure the funding. And we started rehearsing… Mike and I started rehearsing. We kind of put away the first strand and we began again from the beginning… from scratch. However, we kept returning to the first strand because it worked so well. In fact, in the end, the play you’ll see now… the first strand… that’s not changed. So, it happened to be made first… and then there was a break…”

… the first strand was so strong that…

“… it was so strong that it felt right… it felt right to keep it… and we looked at various ways of concluding the piece and we decided that we wanted to talk about what happened to her afterwards… that was important. There was a lot of wonderful talk when she was in Terezin… and she joined the Fisk community there… making plays… obviously they were dancing under the gallows… there were transports going out every month… but the cream of Europe in terms of designers, composers were all there… they were making theatre, art… and she was a part of that, she was an actress. But that was something we couldn’t dramatise about… so the idea of one person doing opera.. . I mean you could read about it, but dramatically it didn’t work. Then we realised that actually what people want to know is what happened. And, also what happens to her after the catastrophe, the process shows her resilience… and that’s what the piece was about… this incredible woman’s emergence and re-emergence…”

… fantastic. So, now you have a complete performance…

“… yeah…”

… and is it a solo performance?

“Yeah. It is.”


[This is the first part of my interview with Jane Arnfield (and Tony Harrington). Read the second part of the interview here.]

Here are a few links to information on Jane Arnfield and Tony Harrington:

The Tin Ring


Human Remain

In The Forge