Ganesh versus the Third Reich

Tackling the Nazi’s and the Indian God Ganesh in the one play and having it performed by a majority of intellectually disabled actors from the Geelong based Back to Back theatre group is truly something to behold. This is quite simply extraordinary theatre. This is the story of the elephant headed Ganesh who is requested by his mother Parvati to travel to Germany from India to meet with Hitler and reclaim the ancient symbol, the swastika, from the Nazi’s. But this is a play within a play as the action stops and the actors gather to discuss how the play is going, what they should do, rehearse bit from it and regularly challenge (or accuse) the audience on whether they are watching the performance because of the intellectually disabled actors – some freak porn or is it legitimate theatre. The work was conceived in 2008 and finally performed in Melbourne in 2011. It has travelled all around the world and finally in2014 has come to Sydney at Carriageworks. Directed and devised by Bruce Gladwin, it stars many of the regular ensemble Simon Laherty, Mark Deans, Scott Price, and Brian Tilley- each with a varying degree of intellectual disability. The humour throughout the script is funny and also at times very sharp as the disabled actors taunt each other about their varying levels of impairment “Mark, you will have to speak, Hitler was a great orator” says Simon to Mark Deans whose natural speech is difficult to understand. Luke Ryan is not intellectually disabled and is cast as Dr Mengele, the Nazi surgeon fascinated by disabilities and oddities within the human race- and the Indian God Vishnu. It is ironic that Luke as a very good looking and well built man, plays a character so flawed and imperfect – as well as the perfect God. In Carriageworks large bay area, the set (Rhian Hinkley) is sparse but with many layers of long plastic curtains that are dragged across the stage and lit from differing angles to create mystical backdrops, a train ride through Swiss mountains, a fertile forest in India, a burnt out Berlin with battered Brandenburg Tor. The music (Johann Johansson) is used to full effect to accentuate the varying moods. If you have ever seen the work of Back to Back (Super Discount, Small Metal Objects) you will be simultaneously humbled yet be laughing at the incongruous humour within the work. This is theatre that makes you feel alive, uncomfortable and uplifted – all at the same time.

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