Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 8.5/10
Cast: Paul McGann, Belinda Lang, Jules Melvin, Robin Morrissey, Sarah Schoenbeck, Venice Van Someren.
It is Human nature to forget, to wipe out the memory, collective or individual, of some of the evils, the deeds carried out in the name of occupation and survival; it is those actions that were in use every day during World War Two on the continent and were mercifully missing from Britain’s streets as the sheer evil of the Nazi war machine dragged its way from the Atlantic edge to the forests and surrounding areas of Stalingrad.
Fortune having made sure that Britain was spared such horror, except of course, and the other side of the coin in which people forget, in the Channel Islands where the war was played out in a microcosm and the occupation seen as some of the most brutal but also in part in some kind of sadistic chivalry, as the young soldiers thanked themselves for not being on the Russian Front and some islanders doing what they had to in order to survive.
It is a theme captured perfectly by the writer Moira Buffini in the play Gabriel, the sense of stifling claustrophobia, of a pre-warning that history was making a point of what was happening in the four main islands of Guernsey, Sark, Jersey and Alderney was just a fine detail that would soon happen in cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Cardiff. That collaboration, of unwilling prostitution and dangerous liaisons could be part of life had the war not turned in the favour of the Allies.
Moira Buffini’s play sees the world of such an occupation through the eyes of one family over the course of three days as they struggle with the fact that a man they rescued from the beach could either represent a semblance of hope or damnation, sent from God or one who has aided the very Devil himself in the shape of new German officer, Von Pfunz, liaised to the island of Guernsey.
The waves of helplessness and anger crash around the stage like the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the rocks that surround the inlets of Petit Bot, Jethou or Alderney and is very exemplified by Sarah Schoenbeck’s Lily, the scared relationship she has with her Mother-In-Law a tipping point in how the occupation tore at families and friends alike and was one in which Ms. Schoenbeck was utterly perfect at showing.
Alongside Paul McGann, making a superb return to his home city and giving a rather chilling performance as the new German officer on the island, and Belinda Lang as the matriarch of the family, Ms. Schoenbeck gave the meaning of human claustrophobia a new and new disturbing take, one not so easily replicated in a world that does not fully appreciate the complexity of what happened on those islands in the English Channel 70 years ago.
Gabriel is a spellbinding play, one that goes a long way to capturing the fear that was prevalent across the European continent and one that transmits, spreads its concerns and dread deep into the soul of those willing to learn the lesson it delivers; one that unfortunately can happen again if we are not careful.
Ian D. Hall