Misusing the holocaust

Misusing the holocaust


norman lebrecht

November 28, 2008

I’m back in town. Apologies for the long gap, but I’ve been globe-trotting – Doha, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Dead Sea – in search of enlightenment and encouragement in these gloomy times.

No sooner am I back than the BBC’s Today programme asks me to defend my recent demolition of Imagine This!, the new Warsaw Ghetto musical, against its outraged producer, one Beth Trachtenberg.

Never averse to an early-morning exchange of sweet reason, I found it difficult to edge a word in between Ms T’s storm of self-justification and free ticket offers. You can hear it here if you have five minutes and nothing better to do.

Apparently some of the show’s backers are the children of Holocaust survivors. This does not in the slightest change my view that using genocide as a backdrop for trivial entertainment is ethically a very dubious thing to do.


  • julia hays says:

    Ms Hays
    I made it clear that I did not review the work during rehearsal, nor do I now have the desire to see it. I was pressed to go to rehearsal on behalf of the producers with a view to giving some advance coverage if I found it worthwhile. I went with an open mind and took in so of the script and the music. I found it worthwhile to make a point that the producers did not appreciate.
    In the article, I specified the distinction between a work that explores a tragic historical event and one which exploits it for the purpose of entertainment.
    If you want to know what love was like in the Ghetto, read the memoirs of the German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki. If you to know about the music, read Szpilman’s The Pianist. Imagine This! cheapens that reality with a fictional plot and trivial effects.
    best wishes
    Mr. Lebrecht —
    In response to your ongoing assertion that IMAGINE THIS! is a trivial musical, I must comment that I think reviewing a show that you have NOT SEEN in its entirety is ethically a very dubious thing to do.
    I am sure it would interest your broad readership if you, in fact, would take up the producer’s challenge and see the show for yourself. One might well say that a musical set during the Russian pogrums in the early 1900’s would sound equally exploitative,and yet out of this pernicious historical moment came the Anatevka of Fiddler on the Roof. Closer to home, one might ask if Joan Littlewood “exploited” World War I in her landmark, Oh What A Lovely War.
    Again, your accusations will only have merit and not, indeed, seem trivial after you have returned to The New London Theatre to see the entire work.

  • I have to say that I don’t think the creators set out to misuse the holocaust, but I do agree with most of your conclusions about the show.
    Though do you not feel even the tiniest bit guilty about being so scathing towards a show you haven’t seen?
    (You can read my take on it here: http://studentjournalist.wordpress.com/2008/11/16/imagine-this-the-holocaust-musical/)
    Correction: I did not review the musical. I was asked by the publicists to see it in rehearsal and had every right to to pass comment on the inappropriateness of the subject matter. Reviewing the show, as I made clear in the article, I left to the regular first-night critics.