Badenheim 1939 moves to the stage

Badenheim 1939 moves to the stage


norman lebrecht

September 08, 2010

I have just heard that Aharon Appelfeld’s marvellous, muted novel of a spa town that becomes a Holocaust camp is to be staged later this year in London by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

The adaptation is by Sir Arnold Wesker, for 25 actors and nine musicians. The director is Christian Burgess and the music is by Julian Phillips. There will be seven performances at the Barbican between 26 November and 1 December.

Tickets from Barbican Box Office 020 7638 8891 or; usually available one month before the opening performance. From September, the School will charge £8 (£4 concessions).

Here’s the playwright’s synopsis:


Badenheim is a spa to which middle-class, bohemian Jews have been coming year after year.  At its centre is an arts festival.  In 1939 strange happenings occur.  Sanitary inspectors gradually take over the spa and inform its Jewish residents that soon they’ll be going to Poland.
Barbed wire springs up around the small spa, guard dogs proliferate, other Jews appear, herded into the area, and the Spa’s facilities gradually cease to function. 
On the last day all the Jews are marched to the station for transport to Poland. Some are quite looking forward to the journey; in Poland, they think, there will be evening classes to continue their education; an opportunity to learn Yiddish, perhaps.  They naturally expect a train will be laid on to take them to their destination.  

When cattle trucks draw up, the festival organiser, ever optimistic, observes:

“Well!  If the coaches are so dirty it must mean that we have not far to go.”