Edinburgh Fringe Review | 2014
"At times it feels as though he does know that the situation they are in is hopeless as disorder begins to creep in between the men but he refuses to accept it."
By David Ian Lee | Director: Joao de Sousa | Stripped Down Productions
It is rare for a play to pull me in so instantly. Already knowing more about The Curing Room than I normally allow myself to know before a review, I was gripped from the start.
Playwright David Ian Lee unrelenting, demanding and brutal new play didn’t bluff its audience and tells the remarkable true story of seven Russian soldiers captured and imprisoned by the Nazi’s in a Polish monastery.
The seven soldiers headed by Captain Victor Nikolov, Rupert Elmes, are stripped of all their clothes and locked in the monastery basement with no food or water as their captures desert them. As the reality of their situation starts to sink in the men try to maintain rank and order but as the hours and days make their situation bleaker their survival instincts begin to kick in and they are faced with making some hard choices they had never thought possible.
One is comforted by the knowledge that this is a true story and so the unimaginable horror these men endured and the decisions they had to make were real ones. These are choices and decision this audience will never have to make. The harshness reality of society is, at times, being placed in a position that is hopeless and with no remorse. To counter this bleakness Lee injects a gentle humour in the discourse between the men that helps, in a small way, to maintain their humanity - this might not always seem fitting but is necessary and more so as the men face some impossible choices.
The company have been served well by their director Joao de Sousa who has been able to bring Lee’s text to life in such a demanding and believable manner never being afraid to move from his vision. He has been blessed by a company that powerfully connect to characters that are facing our greatest of challenges and worst fears. Philip Lindley set is simple but utterly effective as the men, trapped in this basement prison, grow more and more dehumanised by their situation one appreciates the cold, darkness of the space. David Howe lighting and Angus MacRae sound provide the plays only real subtlety and gently covers over their horror. And yet this further draws in the audience's experience of this challenge of these men.
"Due to the horror that unfolds during the play with the audiences limited visibility of the space the use of prosthetics became essential."
Though the feel of hopelessness is palpable the company are able show some the light, as brief as it might be. The men, guided by their moral and thoughtful, if at times slightly flawed Captain. He refuses to admit the direness of the situation and this optimism really does comfort the men. Elmes manages to maintain Nicolov’s dignity while expressing a hidden truth. At times it feels as though he does know that the situation they are in is hopeless as disorder begins to creep in between the men but he refuses to accept it.
This is further illustrated by the care, protection, and love, that is shown throughout the play by Private Georgi Poleko, Matt Houston, to Private Yura “Yuri” Yegerov, Thomas Holloway is a beautiful example of men being put in the darkest of places yet is able to keep his head. Houston and Holloway are remarkable and touchingly affecting in their roles showing a genuine duty to one another that keeps the men from full out rebellion.
Every now and then a piece of theatre comes about that can’t afford to hide its message or the power of its intentions, behind subtlety. Due to the horror that unfolds during the play with the audiences limited visibility of the space the use of prosthetics became essential.
The Curing Room is not an easy hour to sit through. Sitting there as one hears and sees the few options these men have in order to survive one becomes indignant and refuse to accept that if one was in that same situation one would act differently. In reality, the chances of being put to the test in this way are extremely limited yet the play still manages to get its audience to connect to these men's stories and the ultimate choices they have to make to survive.