Presented as part of the Great Ideas Performance Series and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s festival Out of the Shadows: Rediscovering Jewish music and theatre, the Seymour Centre will present the world premiere reconstruction of Prince Bettliegend for three performances only this week.
A musical revue, Prince Bettliegend was written by Jewish prisoners in the Terezín Ghetto (Theresienstadt), a transit camp which served as a place to gather Central European Jews before sending them to the death and labour camps in the east. In spite of harsh living conditions, the prisoners initiated a stunningly diverse and active cultural life, including theatrical comedy.
As one survivor wrote, “I don’t know if anyone today, especially youth, can imagine what laughter meant in a Nazi concentration camp. In spite of all the harassment, dirt, ugliness and horror, or rather exactly because of them, we all sought stimulus through which it would be possible to live and draw hope.”
A satirical fairy tale, Prince Bettliegend was written as a humorous critique of favouritism and corruption in the ghetto – new song lyrics were set to popular jazz melodies by Jaroslav Ježek, a brilliant composer of the legendary interwar Liberated Theatre in Prague.
Bettliegend, meaning literally ‘bedridden’, indicated a person who had been prescribed bed rest due to illness and did not have to work. This designation could also exempt prisoners from outgoing transports. Even healthy prisoners could be declared bettliegend in order to protect a friend or family member or in return for a bribe. In the plot, a comic duo tries to free the Prince from a spell that kept him in bed, until finally realising that this was the last thing he wanted.
Prince Bettliegend is directed by the University of Sydney’s Associate Professor Ian Maxwell, with musical direction by Dr Kevin Hunt, design by Dylan Tonkin, drawing on the research of, and in collaboration with Dr Lisa Peschel of the University of York, and Dr Joseph Toltz, Research Fellow at the University’s Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The cast – Robert Jarman, Nigel Kellaway, Katia Molino, Gideon Payton-Griffiths and Yana Taylor – bring backgrounds in a range of physical and devised performance work, from Urban Theatre Projects, the Opera Project, Stalker, the Sydney Front, Version 1.0, Theatre Kantanka, the PACT ensemble, to the Blue Cow Theatre Company.
“Our work sets out from a handful of songs, set to the pre-war jazz of Jaroslav Ježek, and the incomplete recollections of survivors of the Terezín/Thereisenstadt ghetto: less a script than the fragmentary memories of the outline of a cabaret fairy tale,” says director, Ian Maxwell. “The production is a re-invention rather than a re-creation: a vibrant encounter of contemporary performance makers with the music, narratives and theatricality of the artists of Terezín.”
Sound Lounge – Seymour Centre, Corner City Road & Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Season: 7 – 10 August 2017
Information and Bookings: www.seymourcentre.com
Image: Prince Bettliegend (supplied)