Summary biography / background
Badac Theatre Company was formed in 1999 by Steve Lambert and Dan Robb (London, U.K.). The aim of the company is to produce new work based around human rights issues. To date we have produced eleven new pieces of work that have included the exploration of: Domestic Violence, The Holocaust, Political Persecution, Violence against Artists.
Badac Theatre and Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty (Honour Bayes interview with Director Steve Lambert, 2010)
Wanting to create work inspired by Jerzy Grotowski, the innovative Polish director, he set up Badac. He was never going to compromise. “If you’re setting up a company, I wasn’t going to do it on anyone else’s terms.” Physically and psychologically demanding, Badac’s intense style comes from a suitably “extreme” source: Antonin Artaud’s The Theatre And Its Double, the bible for half the radical playwrights of recent decades. “The very first chapter is called ‘Theatre and The Plague’ and all of our work is about me trying to understand that chapter.”
Company’s philosophical approach (from Badac Theatre’s website)
THEATRE OF VIOLENCE
Badac’s work has always focused on human rights issues. The more we explored these issues the more we came to realise that mankind is controlled by violence. That violence infects every aspect of the human state, that it is as vital to human existance as is the air we breathe or the food we eat.
Without violence we have nothing. Mankind has proved this consistently over a period lasting thousands of years, we survive because we have this capability for extreme violence, not in spite of it. This violence is not only a physical violence, as a species we have refined violence so that it can be emotional, psychological and even spiritual.
Our work is an experiment in trying to find an essence of this violence through theatre.
To approach this “Theatre of Violence” our work must be extreme. The actors will be led to a point of physical destruction, where they have no more to give, from this exhaustion, this freedom, we will explore their violence, we will pull from them their capacity for destruction and channel this into the play.
The experience this creates for both the actors and the audience will be intense, disturbing, brutal and destructive. This is what we want. If we are to understand both the capabilities and suffering of man then we must expect the experience to be painful.
Reviews of The Cry (2010):
By Lyn Gardner of the Gaurdian (19 August 2010)
Tim Crouch’s superb and slippery The Author at the Traverse considers what we choose to watch on the stage. Badac’s The Cry makes for an interesting companion piece because what we are watching is an imagined re-enactment of the interrogation experiences of the Palestinian poet Ghazi Hussein, who has been imprisoned 23 times.
Yet while this is clearly a piece of theatre, the blood is real. Played out in a wire cage, the actor playing Hussein (Steve Lambert, who also directs) has his head repeatedly held under water; he is pushed and kicked and again and again; he is thrown against the wire. As the performance continues, his back becomes red and raw. Blood trickles from a cut on his arm. For the audience, this presents a tricky situation. Walk away and you are effectively put in the position where you are walking away from all those who are tortured by governments around the world. If you stay, are you being complicit in what is happening on stage, or bearing witness? One of the most interesting things about The Cry is not what happens within the wire cage, but what happens to the audience outside of it. With every blow, you can see the audience on the other side flinch; you know that the agony in their eyes is the reflected agony in your own.
Badac is well-known for its extreme approach to theatre, an approach that has often caused controversy in the past, most notably with The Factory in 2008. It is a company fuelled by anger at injustice, but that anger can make for ugly theatre.
Here, the quiet voice of Hussein is a compelling whisper amid the cacophonous rage and violence of his interrogators. I wish I could say that it is the whisper that speaks louder, but what stays with you is the sound of flesh breaking on metal.
By Sam Friedman at Fest Magazine (14 August 2010)
Like all Badac’s work, The Cry attempts to totally immerse its audience in the horror of its subject matter. But, although the theatrical imagining of torture seems frighteningly realistic (Lambert has had to take time off recently after tearing ligaments during the show), the play somehow fails to create a completely immersive experience. In large part this is due to the venue, where faint but persistent sounds of beer-fuelled revelry distract heavily from the play’s sense of imprisonment and claustrophobia. The lyrical script also jars at times, particularly when contrasted with the realist atmosphere of the torture scenes.
Flaws aside, though, this remains a brave and provocative piece of theatre. Graphically illuminating the darkest of human practices, The Cry demonstrates how torture can cruelly strip away not only political identities but often all semblance of human creativity and selfhood.
Reviews of The Factory (2008) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival:
…. “The Factory” will be set in a complex of old underground beer cellars and will aim to re-create both the architecture of the crematorium and the journey of destruction the victims were led through.
…. Because The Factory focuses on the specific destruction of “the family camp” that existed at Auschwitz/Birkenau this journey will include the ferocious beatings inflicted on the victims, the stripping of their posessions, the undressing process and ultimately their entry into the Gas Chambers.
The Factory will be an extreme physical and emotional experience that aims to explore the journey towards death taken by the millions of victims who perished within the Gas Chambers at Auschwitz.
From the Scotsman.com (05 August 2008)
…. For an unforgettable 50 minutes, in the dank layers of cellars beneath the Pleasance, we, the audience, become fellow prisoners, shouted at, harangued, told to line up and move on right into the final gas chamber itself, alongside the three trembling, terrified, and eventually naked companions who are the members of the cast. It is a horrific experience, driven home by a script of simple repeated strands of shouted dialogue – “tell me what they will do to us”, “if we do nothing they will kill us” – that land like hammer blows in the brain.
…. But there is some subtlety here, too, in the relationship between prisoners and those chosen from among them to be their guards; and the moment when we say that this story no longer needs to be retold will be a moment of immense danger, for a civilisation that once said “never again”, and meant it.
By way of dramatising a historical atrocity, Badac Theatre commit a theatrical atrocity. Their intention is to simulate the experience of the gas chambers. Cast as inmates of Auschwitz, the audience are led through a series of vaults under the Pleasance, and shouted at a lot. “Fucking move! Fucking move!” shouts a shouty man repeatedly, and we have to fucking move. A bit like in Auschwitz, apparently. “Fucking strip,” he later shouts. But we don’t have to strip. I’m not sure why. Some performers strip, though, revealing their well-fed bodies on the threshold of the gas chambers.
The best one can say of Steve Lambert’s production is that it cares, and it is committed. But its effort to replicate Auschwitz is poorly conceived and counterproductive. It abuses its audience – hollering expletive-laden orders at us, hammering at sheets of metal until our ears ring. This, of course, alienates rather than engages us. And the company’s thuggish bid to be as unpleasant as Auschwitz just draws attention to the dissimilarities. We have chosen to be here. We are not obliged to take orders. We can leave.
The role of the audience has not been thought through. When it is convenient, the performers treat us like their fellow detainees; elsewhere, they bellow their platitudinous script at one another (“They’re going to fucking kill us”; “We must die with dignity”, etc) as if we are not there. A more sensitive production might have resolved these contradictions, might even have evoked something of the concentration camp experience. But there is nothing sensitive about The Factory. It is delivered at an unvarying hysterical pitch, as guard screams at prisoner, prisoner screams at prisoner, guard screams at audience.
Two thoughts: oh, their poor larynxes; and this isn’t remotely what Auschwitz would have been like.
….Meanwhile, the performers shout at each other: “We must resist! We must resist!”
Resist is what I did. On two occasions in the show, after being screamed at to “fucking move!”, I refused. This is unusual for me: normally in the theatre I am as passive as the next person. But in this context, I had an instinctive and visceral reaction to being shouted at in this way. The performers clearly weren’t prepared for my response and were unable to incorporate it into the show.
What is more surprising is how some members of the company have behaved since…
By Angie Brown, Edinburgh reporter, for the BBC (15 August 2008)
I can’t remember the last time I cried, well certainly not from sheer terror.
But, after going to see The Factory, I have joined a list of people, men included, who have been broken down to blubbering, weeping wrecks during the Fringe performance.
I managed to last 12 minutes as an “Auschwitz victim” in a dark tunnel under The Pleasance before I made my escape.
I actually feel quite sick even recounting the experience and admit that I declined a phone conversation the next day with the lead character because I felt, irrationally, absolutely terrified of him.
The Factory, a production by Badac Theatre Company, recreates the last hour in the life of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
I knew to expect suffering but this was too realistic.
We were surrounded by the actors, there was no safety zone or distance between the audience and them.
…. And, while we were in this noise-like torture, the men were also taking turns to march up and down and come up to members in the audience in a threatening and terrifying manner.
…. I tried to reason with myself by thinking, “they are just actors”, but they were just too convincing and I could actually feel my heart pounding.
The noise and the intimidating men enveloped me and I became more and more anxious until I suddenly managed to make a run for the door, which was being opened for a man who was also fleeing.
And then I just started to cry from the sheer shock of the experience.
…. I have since learned from a leading clinical trauma psychologist, Dr Matthias Schwannauer of Edinburgh University, that my reaction was not weak or wimpy as I have feared people would think.
He said: “If you flood people with noise and move towards them it increases their physical threat as the brain is subjected to a multi-sensory impact.
“This does not evoke sympathy because there is acute threat and, instead, the reflective part of the brain is shutdown and you can’t reason that it is not real.
“The extreme noise causes the brain to feel confused and I know some people who would be tipped over the edge from this show. Your reaction has been similar to that of a trauma victim.”
…. “The aim of the piece is to make people feel how these prisoners must have felt.”…
The Factory Pleasance
If ever there was a show with its heart in the right place but its brain out of joint, this is it. Steve Lambert’s Badac Company has attempted to re-create the experience of being a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The message of telling the world is absolutely right, and as the inmates stand in the gas chamber defiantly singing a song that is now the national anthem of Israel – a land they would never see – one begins to feel the terror and sadness of the millions lost in the Holocaust. However, for far too much of the hour-long Concentration Camp Experience, the team works too hard to shock in ways that fail to convince. While their lines lack fluency, you cannot fault the commitment and effort of these actors who will have put on a lot of muscle by the end of the run. They bang metal plates for an age and then repeatedly shout expletive-littered orders until they cease to have any meaning. An inevitable problem is that though you follow and mingle with the inmates, there has of necessity to be a distinction between those who will move on to the next show and those cremated and lost forever. This is a noble idea and even with its limitations, the final message of remembering the Holocaust and enabling others to do so in order to stop it happening again is as important today as ever. Philip Fisher at Theatre Guide London (2008)