07 October 2011

MIAF review: Ganesh Versus the Third Reich

MIAF 2011
Ganesh Versus the Third Reich
Malthouse There and Melbourne Festival and Back to Back Theatre
29 September 2011
Merlyn Theatre
to 9 October

Should we only tell our stories? Is it possible to balance the line between respect and offence? With a hullaballoo playing out in the media about how this show is offending some "Melbourne taxpayers", it's probably best to see Ganesh Versus the Third Reich to make up your own mind.

When the Back to Back ensemble conceived the "great conceit" of Ganesh travelling to nazi Germany to reclaim the swastika,  they knew it was "morally fraught ... and too dangerous for a little theatre company from Geelong to appropriate Hindu gods and create a fairytale within the Holocaust."

Thankfully, they re-thought and created a story within a story that blurs reality and fiction as it confronts itself and manipulates its audience's assumptions.

Devised by Mark Deans, Marcia Ferguson, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, Kate Sulan, Brian Tilley and David Woods,  the telling takes us into the rehearsal room as the cast (Deans, Laherty, Price and Tilley) deal with a difficult director (Woods) and argue dilemmas like if it's ok to play a Jew if you're not a Jew or an Indian deity if you're not an India deity. And there's the issue of who's going to play the "good part" of Hitler.

Meanwhile, Ganesh arrives in a concentration camp in 1943, where his elephant-head draws the attention of Mengele, and he meets Levi, whose mental retardation has kept him alive.

If you're going to be offended this work, be offended by yourself as you realise that you came into the theatre with some pre-conceptions and ideas that are offensive to others.

Ganesh Versus the Third Reich is theatre that grabs us by our hearts, gives us permission to laugh, makes us cry, shakes some sense into us, then starts the process again. What an astonishing start to MIAF 2011.

Photo by Jeff Busby

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com

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