An exploration of the industrial process of extermination at the Auschwitz/Birkenau during The Holocaust

"You see as the gas was tipped in it rose from the ground up and in the struggle that took place most of the people pushed towards the door. It was instinctive. They knew where it was. Maybe they could break through."


Badac Theatre Company's new production "The Factory" aims to explore the process of extermination used within the Gas Chambers at Auschwitz/Birkenau.

During the Edinburgh 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.

The audience will be led through each individual stage of the of the killing process by the Sonderkommando (the special commando) the Jewish prisoners who were forced to work within the Gas Chambers. 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.

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On the evening of the 8th March 1944 the Jewish inmates of "the family camp" within Auschwitz/Birkenau were told to gather their belongings and to prepare for a journey out of the camp. They were told by the S.S. that they were being moved to Heydebreck where they would be put to work.

The S.S. were lying.

After being put into trucks the prisoners were taken directly to crematorium 2 within Birkenau where they were beaten, stripped of their clothes and possesions and then gassed.

The Factory will aim to re-create the events that took place in Crematorium 2 that night. It will allow the audience the opportunity to experience the violence of that night along with giving an insight into the emotional, physical and phsycological insanity involved in being forced towards your death.

As in previous Badac productions the actors are given a freedom to explore the full ferocity of both the violence involved and the intense emotional journey to be undertaken. In The Factory techniques will be used that allow the actors the opportunity to explore and give full vent to their rage without the restraints imposed by stage fighting or other forms of theatrical violence. This freedom will also allow the actors the oppotunity to explore and express through intense physicality the pain of knowing that you are about to die and the insanity that must come with that knowledge.

The freedom given to the actors involved in re-creating the insanity that the Gas Chambers were will in turn allow the audience to experience in some way the pain, suffering and violence endured by the "family camp" Jews on March 8th 1944.

"The people were hurt. they had fought and struggled in the darkness. They were covered in excrememt and blood."

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General Statistics

On February 21st 1940 it was decided that the former Polish artillery barracks in Oswiecim, south western Poland, would be used as a quarantine camp, intended to hold 10,000 prisoners.

Five years later this decision had led to the deaths of at least 1,500,000 people.

Auschwitz/Birkenau was in fact two seperate camps, the largest being at Birkenau. At the height of its power Birkenau held more than 200,000 prisoners.

Birkenau was also the single greatest killing centre ever conceived by mankind. It had within its grounds four purpose built gas chambers each one equipped with its own crematoria.

People were shipped to Birkenau from all over Europe, either to be worked to death or to be gassed upon arrival. The 1,500,000 people known to have died there included men women and children.

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The torrent which faces audiences in Badac theatre company's "The Factory" is not one of language but, rather, of moral and political pain. From the outset of writer, director and actor Steve Lambert's promenade piece (played in a labyrinthine basement), we are required to follow the movements of Holocaust victims in the terrible last hour of their lives, up to and including the final moments inside the Gas Chamber itself.

Early in the piece, the relentless violence of the death camp is represented by kapos (prisoners given positions as camp "foreman" by the Nazis) battering metal sheets with steel tubes. One fears that the sensory pain of the production might obscure its meaning.

However, as we travel the stages to the Gas Chamber, witnessing the frantic, final disputes between the prisoners, tasting the abuse of the kapo, the play achieves its desired emotional, moral and intellectual effect. At the conclusion, as we stand with the naked actors in the imagined Gas Chamber, one feels this visceral and brave work as a powerfully theatrical cry against human brutality and an indictment of the enduring evil of fascism.



Badac Theatre Company's new show "The Factory" takes us straight into the heart of darkness, onto the very borderline of death and survival as it was experienced by the millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and political dissidents sent into the horror of the Nazi death camps.

For an unforgettable 50 minutes, in the dank 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, 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.

Something tells me that those who already care about man's inhumanity to man will be deeply moved and affected by this piece, whereas those who care more about the dust on their designer T-shirts will simply be irritated; and there is sometimes a sense of a young company gaining credit for artistic seriousness by simply choosing a subject of unparalleled horror, and turning up the volume. 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.



The assault on your senses begins before you've even entered the venue, the ragged, bedraggled members of Badac Theatre Company surrounding the queue, shaking and moaning and hoarsely muttering "we will show you" over and over.

It continues with ten deafening minutes of steel being pummelled in a merciless, mindless barrage of noise. This is Badac"s attempt to conjure the horror of Auschwitz and Birkenau, and even by the company's robust standards, its a gut churning piece of work.

Theatre is not the medium to tackle the mind-numbing vastness of the Holocaust; rather Badac attempts to conjure it on a personal scale, marching us through a series of increasingly claustrophobic rooms, witnesses to the last moments of a nameless trio of camp inmates. There are no foreign accents, no Nazi uniforms and no direct references to the situation beyond repeated mentions of "the gas". It's illogical, Kafka-esque - the draconian commandant takes no pleasure in the slaughter; the sonderkommando prisoner is a weeping emotional wreck; pleas for mercy, or even an explanantion, are met by nothing than screams, shouts and swearing.

Different sections are more immersive than others - sometimes it feels like the audience are playing the role of inmates, other times mere spectators.

But the end, as everybodyis herded into a tiny room to watch the inevitable play out - the victims now dead eyed and naked - is an almost unbearable spectacle of horror, like 10,000 hammers crashing into your stomach.



Disturbing, harrowing, shocking - these words aren't strong enough to describe the emotions stirred by "The Factory". In this story of the journey to the Gas Chamber, the audience were taken through the Pleasance cellars as if we were prisoners ourselves.

Shouted at, sworn at, forbidden to move unless commanded, the performance was so credible that we were forced to identify with those who were sent to the prison camps, to the point where members of the audience were moved to tears. Most striking was the emphasis on the witnessing of atrocities; someone has to survive to give evidence, and in this instance, the audience is the witness.

An important play to experience, but definitely not for the faint hearted.



"They came for the Jews, and i didn't speak up because i wasn't a Jew." attributed to Martin Niemoller, this sentiment comes to mid during Badac Theatre's disturbing and compelling reconstruction of the death journey of so many of Hitler's final solution victims. As concentration camp prisoners mumble outside the entrance to the cramped underground chambers, the distressing promenade takes effect even before entering the venue.

With an intensity rarely achieved theatrically, each actor, dressed in filthy prison uniform, barks frighteningly aggressive orders as this immersive experience pounds the senses. Metal batons beat a searing,painful rhythm, as the guards pass by, leaving nothing but the wish for them not to return, even if others are experiencing the same pain as a consequence.

We learn more as the journey progresses, each step becoming filled with dread, representing as it does a step closer to the gas.

Forced to strip, each prisoner retains a harrowing dignity, singing the "Hatikva", a song of hope sung by the survivors of Bergen Belson in 1945, before a deathly silence. This is not a theatre of entertainment, but of instruction: a reminder of what happens when good men do nothing. This will leave you numb.



I am not sure that "The Factory" can really be called theatre, not if we think that theatre is about sitting and watching a play performed in front of us. What we can say about it is that this site-specific, totally immersivepiece is a harrowing experience for both cast and audience. It examines the "journey towards death taken by the millions of victims who perished in the Gas Chambers at Auschwitz" but we, the audience, are not shown this journey: we experience it for ourselves.

With the cast intermingling with us, we are sworn and shouted at and led first into a large garage-like space in the new Pleasance Undergrand. Then we are bullied, screamed at and taken through increasingly small spaces into a tiny underground room, the actual Gas Chamber itself. Throughout the play goes on around and amongst us. We aren't allowed to sit or relax: we are subjected to (almost) all the same indignities as the prisoners.

Fifty minutes long, this horrifying recreation of man's greatset inhumanity to man, The Holocaust, is like nothing else you will experience in Edinburgh or elsewhere. It is the logical culmination of Steve Lambert's work which began with "Ashes to Ashes" at the 1999 Fringe (another 5 ***** piece). It is far from easy viewing (wrong word!) and those who are claustrophobic or who have delicate ears will suffer somewhat, but everyone should experience it.



Equally hard to endure is Badac Theatre Company's "The Factory". The audience is lined up two-by-two and marched into a succession of cellar rooms to be deafened by the hammering of sheet metal, sworn and screamed at - a recreation of prisoners last moments at Auschwitz. Packed into the Gas Chamber, three inmates stand among you, naked, sweating and shaking, trying to console each other, singing in Yiddish.

Most of the audience bow their heads, faces set grimly, staring at the floor. One woman looks straight ahead in sorrow, tears silently dripping off her face, while another buries her face in her hands and sobs uncontrollably. Unethical to some, unbearable for others, there is no denying the power of this performance and the necessity that we never forget.



Making superb use of the found space in the cellars underneath the Pleasance, Steve Lambert's Badac Theatre Company takes its audience on a perilously dark journey into the Nazi concentration camps.

This is totally immersive theatre. The company bludgeons its audience into submission over an increasingly uncomfortable 50 minutes. The first warning that anything is up comes as you are lined up in two rows, the cellar doors descend behind you and the theatre attendants put on large ear protectors.

Dressed in the drab, loose hanging rags of camp prisoners, the cast sets about beating on metal plates hanging against the wall. Ten minutes later, the sound has become painfuland you are numbed enough to be lined up, marched, abused and lined-up again until you reach the tiny room in which now naked prisoners are to be gassed.

The production could afford to go a step further in terms of confronting the audience, while the distancing effect of the theatre attendants being dislocation from the experience could be actively used. But this is still a distressing experience. One which is powerful enough to force you to remind yourself that you are an audience member, that these are actors and that this is a piece of theatre.



NowI know the guard is only an actor. But he's brandishing a metal bar, so it makes sense to shut up, move and face forward, as per his every barked command. From behind us, two very loud bangs and a woman's scream. The audience flinches, but before too long we'll become accustomed to both sounds.

Badac Theatre Company's uncompromising production, "The Factory" staged in the underground caverns beneath The Pleasance, is not a ghost tour. It's n ot about cheap scares, nor is it about whispered poetry or especially profound insights into human fear, panic and despair.

It is an invitation to retrace the final steps of Holocaust victims, and surrender to the resulting sense of overwhelming sadness. Think carefully about wether you want to experience it, and don't even think of booking tickets for another show that starts straight after it.

The dialogue is simple and repetitive, as are the meaningless physical tasks undertaken by a menial worker with a crumpled face and haunted eyes who is coming close to breaking point after sending hundreds to their deaths.

To call this production a "promenade" seems wholly inappropriate, evoking as that word does a leisurely guided stroll. The audience is ordered from room to room, eventually filing into a confined space from which it is clear that the three people will not be walking.

They are only acting, of course. But they are also naked and covered in sweat, dirt and snot. Their loss of dignity does not feel artificial, and when they begin to sing the Israeli national anthem - proudly, defiantly, urgently - the scale of the suffering they represent becomes overwhelming.



In a dank, airless room beneath Edinburgh's Pleasance Courtyard, I am waiting to die. Beside me, a naked woman is whispering her boyfriend's name. A naked man is crying out that he is scared. Another naked man is standing tall, singing the Hatikva.

This is "The Factory", a production by Badac Theatre Company that recreates the last hour in the life of prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It begins outside a corrugated iron wall, with the audience lined up in pairs beside three actorsin striped sackcloth. It continues inside, through a succession of dark, dusty underground rooms, as a guard wielding a metal pole snarls at both actors and audience to move, stop, strip (although here, only the actors are expected to obey), and, finally, await their death.

This is less theatre than direct, visceral experience - which was the aim of Badac's director, Steve Lambert.

"There's no distance between audience and actors" he says.

Neither is there much by the way of script: what words there are - "move", "why?", "I'm scared" - are as basic and stripped back as the prisoners themselves. "The camp guards aimed to disarm and disorientate, and take away people's right to ask questions," says Lambert. "What you are left with are bullets of language."

If this sounds like a gruelling experience for a sunny August afternoon, it is. But it is also one that heads straight for the gut, and that sticks in the memory. For some audience members, it proved too much: one woman left a performance in the first few minutes, while another was so moved by the final scene that Lambert had to help her up the stairs and out of the venue.

For the director, any audience reaction means the company has achieved what they set out to do. "Here, some people may leave, others may cry," he says, "But the only thing that matters is that they've felt something."



When I first heard about the Badac Theatre Company's new piece, based on accounts of what happened at Auschwitz/Birkenau, I felt some apprehension. The idea of a theatrical experience aspiring to recreate the sensation of being led to the Gas Chambers verges on the insulting; how could a group of well fed theatre goers get anywhere close to the horror of what took place in the concentration camps? Would the result be absurd rather than involving?

Performances of "The Factory" take place in The Pleasance Undergrand, a series of windowless cellars, through which the audience is led by a small group of actors. Playing the role of both guards and prisoners, the actors perform scenes in which the audience take the part of the crowd: ordered about by the guards, implored to take action by the actors who play out fellow prisoners. The power of this production lies in its simplicity, in the pared down script which repeats lines over and over, and the unshowy but affecting performances. The prisoners compulsively seek answers that won't bring them any comfort, while the guards' repeatedly shouted orders are a form of violence.

The cast are all excellent, but the one female member - Emily Bruce - stands out. She has a tricky start with a scene demanding that she mime being beaten for an extended period - incredibly challenging to do well, and she doesn't quite manage it. As the play goes on, however, she gives a very moving performance as a prisoner who wants to survive, and if that isn't possible then at the very least to be remembered.

This is an impressive theatrical event because it shifts our perspective, however briefly, from that of passive watchers of documentary or readers of history books. For a short time we take part, we observe and then we leave - what we take from the experience is left to us, which is exactly as it should be.



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 between the audience and them. We were made to stand in two small rows, one in front of the other, in a long, dark tunnel in the venue's vaults before a metal roller door was closed down behind us. About six men and a woman then started screaming and swearing and ordering us about. They were behind us, in front of us and all around us. They had shaved heads, were brandishing metal clubs against sheets of metal attached to the stone walls, which masde a deafening noise for 10 minutes. 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 was rooted to the spot and I remember trying hard not to flinch, or even breathe, in case my movement caught their attention. 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.

After the show, my colleague told me she was taken down some steps into smaller and smaller rooms while being screamed at before some of the actors took all their clothes off and ordered the audience against the wall as the onslaught of fear and intimidation carried on relentlessly.

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."

A spokesman for the show said: "This is a violent, very brutal and noisy show and people have found it too much and left. The aim of the piece is to make people feel how these prisoners must have felt."

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During the company's last visit to the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2005 our play "CAGE", which focused on domestic violence, was nominated for and received the following awards and press reviews

Nominated - The Stage Award for Best Ensemble
Winner - The Stage Award for Best Actress

British Theatre Guide
* * * *
The Stage
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Three Weeks * * * *
The List * * * *
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For all booking information please contact Badac Theatre Company.
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