When a rarely-performed play is ‘rediscovered’, there’s always the worry that it lacks popularity for a reason. Still, the Finborough Theatre has had more success than most in this area, so it was with reasonable confidence that I went to see Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy.
The play, written in 1964, is based on a real-life incident in Vichy, France, when Nazis arrested a load of men in the town and sent them to concentration camps. It has a large cast, being set in a waiting room where several individuals are waiting, having been picked up over the course of the day on suspicion of being Jewish or for some other reason. A number of Nazi officials come in every so often to select the next interviewee, while the others remain behind, speculating on the reasons for their arrest and unable to get answers to the questions they have asked.
It could easily become a thriller-like And Then There Were None situation, with tension arising from not knowing who’s going to be next. Instead, it is a study of how people act under pressure, as well as how such a situation is allowed to arise in the first place.
For such a large cast, it’s impressive that there is no weak link. I suspect the size of the cast is the reason the play is rarely performed. Miller and director Phil Willmott are very good at maintaining the tension, and it’s fascinating to explore how different people think and feel. What struck me the most was how relevant the play is to today’s society: with the contemporary rise of fascism it’s chilling to look at how the circumstances compare to the rise of the Nazis.
Georgia de Grey’s set is a bare white box and bench, starkly lit: simple, but nothing else is needed. Overall, a superb revival of an intelligent and pertinent play.