Review: Drawing Life at Barbican *****

Review: Drawing Life at Barbican *****

Fiona Green is a features writer

Shocking, immensely emotive, touching, painfully sad and disbelief – these are all words that could aptly describe the experience of watching Drawing Life, performed at the Barbican to mark the end of Holocaust Remembrance Week, writes Fiona Leckerman.

Award-winning composer Jocelyn Pook (famed for writing the soundtrack for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut) joins with director Emma Bernard and video artist Dragan Aleksic to present Drawing Life, the collection of music, art and survivors’ stories from Terezin Concentration Camp.

It far exceeds an ordinary theatre-going experience and so it’s probably best to extol its brilliance first – for it is quite simply one of the best Holocaust plays of recent years – but also to note the impact of watching it still haunts long after the lights come up and the performance has concluded.

Drawing Life, a multifaceted production, tells the story of Terezin Concentration Camp – as described and shown in the authentic footage of the Nazi propaganda film as a spa town for the Jews and a gift from the Fuhrer – was in fact a holding camp before transferring the Jews to the death camps.

D.A.R.C. Media. Manuel Vason
A scene from Drawing Life. Credit: D.A.R.C. Media. Manuel Vason

The amassing of thousands of Jews, many of whom were famous creatives, saw them utilise their talents to bring hope to the camp community. This included concerts, choirs, poetry and art.

Musicians and playwrights, actors and artists let their creativity flourish and it is these words and music that have inspired and informed the score to Drawing Life.

The production is a gentle and almost loving assault on all of the senses, it’s verbatim theatre meets musical, standing next to a play accompanied by a choral concert.

It’s a far-reaching performance piece where film, sound and theatre are combined, producing heart -endering viewing.

But it’s not heavy handed with history, it does not bombard footage like machine gun fire, instead it is respectful and tender with the retelling.

There is a straightforward realness to the way Bernard has staged this production. She lets the facts, words and music dictate the flow, which in turn provides the audience with an empathetic involvement.

The Zemel Choir are used with quixotic effect, which makes you imagine what the choirs of the camp would have gifted the other prisoners, their soaring voices coupled with Melanie Pappenheim and Lorin Sklamberg sing of sadness and loss, love and life; as footage is projected, drawings created by the children of the camp are shown as descriptions are read and facts are announced.

Drawing Life is a tribute as well as a testimony. It also proves that despite darkness, there can still be hope and when all material possessions and human rights are taken away, creativity can remain.


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