REVIEW: Drowned or Saved? (Tristian Bates Theatre) ★★★★

Drowned or Saved is a new play by first time playwright Geoffrey Williams playing at Tristan Bates Theatre. Williams has taken on the challenge of presenting the work of holocaust survivor and revolutionary thinker, Primo Levi, in an attempt to share Levi’s message of humanity, compassion and perseverance.

Primo Levi has become recognised around the world as one of the greatest, broadest thinkers of modern times. Born in Turin in 1919, Levi was an Italian Jew transported to Auschwitz in 1943, at the age of 24. Against all odds he survived the camp; Drowned or Saved explores the cost of his survival. The play presents Levi later in life when he has already written his most significant works. These works detail the horror of his experiences and have great historical interest. As a trained scientist, Levi has a curiosity and a desire to understand and make sense of his experiences.

Over 75 minutes we join Levi in his darkened study as he trawls his memories and conjures characters from his past to life. Marco Gambino is well cast as Levi, recalling his memories with emotion and easily switching from past to present to tell his tales. Alex Marchi plays many roles conjured by Levi as he obsessively writes the stories of his past. Eve Niker is impressive and haunting as the recurrent memory of a young boy Levi met at Auschwitz. Paula Cassina plays Levi’s wife and housekeeper, concerned for his welfare and struggling to bring his thoughts back from the past to the present.

Williams explains his choice of this difficult subject by stating that the voices of living survivors are disappearing and he feels it is important to preserve their testimony. He feels that while it can be difficult to imagine the scale of the horrors of Auschwitz we can begin with one person’s story and that person can be Primo Levi who has told his story so eloquently. This is not an easy play to watch but Williams’s words and the talented cast present Levi’s memories with care and sensitivity and these are stories that need to be heard.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Ewa Ferdynus


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