Review: The Reichstag is Burning (Edinburgh Fringe, online)

Joanne Hartstone (whose show The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign is also streaming at Black Box Live) has created a satirical musical revue set in the early 30s where the Nazi party took power in Germany, but populates it with a mix of contemporary songs of the time against numbers from later decades, some with new lyrics.

It is a spirited performance, clearly influenced by the Weimar cabaret, but the tone sometimes seems a little too light for the subject matter (one example – a statement that book burning will lead to burning people is quickly dispelled by a sprightly song about women rebelling against being defined by “husband, home and family”).

As a piece of filmed theatre, this is beautifully shot by director Tom Kitney and the sound is excellent. Hartstone, assuming the persona of “Iris London”, has a strong presence, but I felt a little uncomfortable with some of the song choices (The Neverending Story, If You Tolerate This, Wicked Game – “Hitler’s going to break your heart”) and how they fitted into the narrative.

Promotional image for The Reichstag is Burning

There is no doubt that The Reichstag is Burning is a thoughtful piece of theatre, and the textual elements clearly spell out the events that took place from 1933 onwards, starting with the corruption in the Reichstag and then the forced domination of the Ayran race and destruction of others (Jews, Gypsies, those with disabilities, homosexuals) who were felt to be surplus to the requirements of the “Master Race”.

Ultimately this is an accomplished show that certainly contains strong writing and performance, and does pay tribute in a way to those who expressed defiance and courage against the new regime and its aims. It also contains a message of caution against dictatorial regimes across the world.

Fringe rating: ***.5

You can stream The Reichstag is Burning until 30 August on the Black Box Player at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: buy your tickets here.

For another show covering similar ground in cabaret style, see my review of Fabulett 1933 in the Camden Fringe.

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