The Last Days of Mankind
BOVTS at Bristol Old Vic
SATIRIST and journalist Karl Kraus wrote The Last Days of Mankind while he was living in Vienna during the First World War, watching as the popular press convinced the population of the “true” situation in Europe and that God was on their side of the Great War.
He was horrified both by the carnage and waste of the war and by the weasel words devoured by a complacent populace, but the work – taken from letters, news and court reports – is sprawling and of unperformable length, as well as being perhaps the first “verbatim” play ever written.
Now a new and much edited version has been prepared by the Old Vic’s professional directors Toby Hulse and John Retallack for performance by the 26 strong class of graduating students of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and is being performed at the historic theatre until this weekend.
The powerful and persuasive satire is stunningly performed by the young actors, against a massive set (designed by Georgia de Grey and Katie Sykes) that depicts the power of the printed word, the overwhelming scale of the battles and the telling personal details.
Three fashionable socialites congratulate themselves on being Viennese, a general worries more about cream for his cake (should have been schlagobers rather than pouring cream!) than his dead soldiers, a glamourous young woman journalist discovers the thrill of the front, an actress tries to intervene and one simple young man fights his way through the war, only to suffer a worse fate on his return home.
And Aldof Hitler is born.
This is an ensemble piece, massive in scope and power, and every one of the young actors captures the spirit of the times. The company was especially lucky to have the gaunt and expressive Darren Seed to play the simple soldier. He looks so like the men in the paintings of Albin Egger-Lienz that depict the domestic and global impacts of war. GP-W