Ian Buckley’s new play The Project started slow and stayed at that tempo throughout. Set in a Dutch transit camp for yellow-starred Jews on their way to the gas chambers while under the watchful eye of SS man, Conrad Schaffer, I was expecting more drama, more tension, more evil, in fact. What we got was a blue-eyed, half-smiling, Aryan Nazi overseeing young former cabaret artistes with a distinct joie de vivre. And the poignancy that should have been present from the audience’s knowledge of where the lovely family of a mum and two daughters are heading left me dry-eyed to say the least, writes Michael Holland.

In the camp none of the inmates know where a thousand Jews go when they are transported out east every week; they are told it will be a good move for them but dark rumours abound. And in the camp everyone has their own agenda: Victor, a smarmy operator, who is only looking out for himself, has talked the camp commandant, Schaffer, into allowing him to organise cabaret shows for the staff and their friends, using his past experience as a producer and compere in the hope that he will not be put on the weekly train. Anna, an erstwhile cabaret star, has caught the eye of Schaffer, who remembers her from the nightclubs in earlier times and wants her to dance just for him under the guise of being his house cleaner. Her boyfriend Peter, the show’s ‘comedian’, is jealous and against the idea but knows that refusing the SS officer would not end well. There is also Anna’s airhead sister Millie making up the numbers, and their sick mother Ette who becomes the dangling carrot when Victor tries convincing Anna to succumb to Schaffer’s desires: ‘He will take your mother off the transport list,’ he tells her. Peter, knowing resistance is futile, uses Anna’s trips to Schaffer’s quarters as an opportunity for her to read any papers she sees lying around that might enlighten them on their inevitable destinations. The whole plot hinges on a hair placed by Schaffer on these papers.

The underlying subtext is about Germans obeying subhuman orders while having very human feelings, which has all been done before and done much better.

The sparse set just barely covered as a transit camp, officer’s quarters, hospital and station, nevertheless, good performances from the cast could not save The Project from a slow death. 

The Project is on at White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, SE11 4DJ until 23rd March. Times: Tuesday – Saturday at 7.30pm; Sunday at 4.00pm. Tickets: £15/£12 Phone: 0333 012 4963

www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk