The provoking play right left with heels is returning to the Voila! Europe Theatre Festival 2020, which is on at The Cockpit, Marylebone, next month.
Running 11-12 November, this play is by Sebastian Majewski and is a surreal piece with a pair of Nazi shoes centre stage. I asked director Rasa Niurkaite to tell me more.
How does it feel to be performing at the Voila! Festival this year?
For us, it feels as if we are picking up where we left off. The last live theatre we presented was right left with heels at Voila! 2019 – now seems like a lifetime ago.
But this time we are coming back in very different circumstances and I am excited to see how the play resonates in 2020. When Voila! invited us back we were humbled and surprised, I didn’t expect to be back in theatre this year.
Was it important to stage a show in a theatre, rather than developing something for the digital space?
Absolutely. A lot of theatre makers successfully produced work for the online audiences, but it made me feel uneasy and lost as a director. At the risk of sounding unadventurous, theatre to me has always been about people, meeting physically in one space.
I applaud all the creatives who managed to reimagine their work for the computer screen, the overwhelming output of digital theatre was welcome and needed. However, it wasn’t the same.
We feel extremely lucky being able to perform in the theatre with other humans. But we also respect the times, and audiences will also be able to see the performance broadcasted online. And the priority for us is to make the online audience feel as part of it as the live audience at the venue.
Why focus on Magda Goebbels and her shoes?
So the play is written by a Polish playwright Sebastian Majewski. He is using these surreal and absurd characters to talk about the dangers of history repeating itself, and the ability of extreme ideologies to morph and survive.
I think, by having these surreal characters on stage the playwright emphasises the absurdity of our tendency to scapegoat. The shoes are sentenced by the Nuremberg tribunal for the crimes of the Nazi regime.
The owner of the shoes killed her six children when she accepted that the Nazi utopia won’t be realised, she couldn’t imagine the world beyond it. The history is written by the winners, but what happens when unexpected voices, in this case a pair of Nazi shoes, get to tell their story?
Does the play work as well in translation as for a Polish audience?
That’s an interesting question. And I can only speculate. The play is set in Poland. It is quite evident that there’s a sense of guilt and shame about what happened in their occupied country during WWII. The biggest concentration camps were in Poland; there were accounts of people waking up to their crops covered in ashes from the nearby “factories”.
There is this question of accountability for something you didn’t do, but didn’t stop from happening. And, based on the feedback we received from the previous showings of this play, these themes do resonate with our audiences here.
You mention the ‘normalisation of horror’ in your publicity, and mention the current rise of far-right and fascist viewpoints. Can you elaborate a bit on this and how the play is relevant to current trends?
We came across this play just before the Brexit vote and the US Presidential Election. The rhetoric of one side of campaigns was worryingly similar to the rhetoric of 1933. We can see the right-wing parties and their sentiments gaining momentum across Europe. This pandemic has highlighted it.
We live in this dangerous post-fact era, where the term ‘alternative facts’ is a thing, where conspiracy theories sometimes are more acceptable that the truth itself. The recent BLM protest have highlighted the way we tell and amend our history, creating a biased view of us and people around us.
The ability to radicalise people has never been as readily available as it is today. History tends to repeat itself. It’s up to us if we are going to let it happen.
Stigma is known for a satirical take on theatre – has this approach carried across to right left with heels?
Absolutely. It’s not all doom and gloom. The shoes are funny! Dark, sometimes inappropriate, yet funny. Humour and satire is extremely important in our work. We talk about difficult subjects and being solemn can sometimes distance audiences from the true meaning; it can prevent them from being curious and asking questions.
I often feel theatre should challenge an audience and leave them with questions and new perspectives. What do you hope audiences gain from right left with heels?
I completely agree! This is an absurdist play, a beast of a play, if I’m totally honest. We gave it a STIGMA spin and created a narrative that mostly happens in between the lines.
As Dave Wybrow, the AD of the Cockpit said, it “describes little directly, but invites us to imagine everything”. And this is what we aimed to achieve. And if two talking Nazi shoes can’t present a different perspective on things, I don’t know what can :).
My thanks to Rasa. You can book to see right left with heels at https://www.voilafestival.co.uk/sales/right-left-heels.
Find out more about the STIGMAcollective here.