Prince Bettliegend in Sydney

August 7, 2017 by Roz Tarszisz
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Sydney is hosting the world premiere reconstruction of Prince Bettliegend (The Bedridden Prince) next week.  Billed as a comic musical revue, it is presented as part of the Seymour Centre’s Great Ideas Performance Series and the Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music’s Out of the Shadows : Rediscovering Jewish Music and Theatre festival.

Lisa Peschel

Lisa Peschel, a lecturer in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York, England, has been researching theatrical performance in the Terezín/Theresienstadt ghetto  for the past 20 years.  Working together with director Ian Maxwell, Joseph Toltz of the Conservatorium and musical director Kevin Hunt it has been a labour of love to bring the work to life.

Originally written by young Czech-Jewish prisoners in the World War II transit camp ghetto at Terezín, most of the original cast perished in the Holocaust. Those who survived remembered the brilliant lyrics and a few vivid moments of the plot.

Peschel told J-Wire that getting the material ready to perform has been a great achievement and could not have been done without Joseph Toltz and the talented cast and directors.

“We had the song lyrics, written down by survivors after the war and by reading different survivors’ memoirs learned more about the story. The lyrics are quite descriptive and we were able to figure out the plot from the lyrics together with different bits of testimony. These testimonies were scattered in Jewish museums around the world and described key moments in the plot which allowed us to eventually pierce the plot of the musical together.

“It is really a satirical fairy tale about prisoners trying to stay off the transport lists. Performances were a way to cheer themselves up –  the music is the lively and optimistic jazz of 1930’s Prague.  As the cast started working on the songs they improvised the text from the outline of what we had.

“The premier is Sydney because the cast are Australian and Joseph Toltz, with whom I worked and collaborated, lives here and is director of the rediscovered Jewish music festival” she said.

The production has been carefully and lovingly reconstructed by a team of researchers, musicians and theatre artists using these memories, capturing the prisoners’ astonishingly irreverent sense of humour while acknowledging the gravity of their fate.

Peschel’s anthology of recently rediscovered scripts, Performing Captivity, Performing Escape: Cabarets and Plays from the Terezin/Theresienstadt Ghetto, was published in 2014. She is currently a co-investigator on the £1.8 million project ‘Performing the Jewish Archive’ funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Prince Bettliegend will be performed at The Seymour Centre 7th-10th August.

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