Wednesday 2 March 2022

Primo - Review


Antony Sher

Adapted by Antony Sher from If This Is A Man by Primo Levi
Directed by Richard Wilson

The film of Primo,  Antony Sher's translation of Primo Levi's  If This Is A Man from page to stage, has recently been released to stream by Digital Theatre. Made in 2005, the movie is directed by Richard Wilson who also helmed the original 2004 Royal National Theatre production.

Levi's work is an opus on the horrendous scale of the horrors of the Holocaust, but viewed from his very singular perspective as a man who was not only subject to the nightmares of the concentration camps, but who ultimately survived Auschwitz. Sher's interpretation of Levi's testimony is a tour de force.

The brutality of the Holocaust so often spelled out in the scale of its slaughter, is reduced by Levi to the minutiae of individual humans, the unimaginable detail of their lives and deaths in the hell of Auschwitz, but described with a harrowing eye for detail. From the glimpses of passing stations and landscapes, momentarily seen through the gaps in his cattle truck's walls, through to recognising the provenance of different camp inmates through the number tattooed on their arm, it is the detailed horrific picture painted by Levi’s, and ultimately Sher’s, words that define this unique narrative.

Hildegard Bechtler has designed a stage that is bare save for a solitary chair, amidst Paul Pyant’s stark but carefully plotted lighting designs. A haunting cello accompaniment from Jonathan Goldstein underlies Sher's eloquent reverence as his spoken narrative transports the audience/viewer from Italy through Austria, Czechoslovakia and ultimately Poland, all under the malevolent control of the Third Reich. 

Levi died in April 1987 and Sher much more recently in December 2021. The recording of this drama is a tribute to them both – it is unmissable.

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