Adelaide Fringe 2020: Mengele

Who: Timothy Marriott & The Garage International

Where: The Garage Internatonal @ Adelaide Town Hall

When: 4-13 March

Tickets: $23-29, here

At the end of the show, Timothy Marriott speaks to the audience and looks emotionally shattered. This is unsurprising for a man who has just spent an hour inhabiting the psyche of Josef Mengele, Auschwitz’s ‘Angel of Death’, one of the most hideous war criminals of the 20th century. After the war, Mengele fled to South America and lived in hiding, escaping justice until his death. This show returns to him a different kind of justice — the justice a blackened psyche inflicts on itself in its final moments of reckoning.

Marriott’s Mengele finds himself washed up on a beach, vulnerable and confused, and enters into an intense back-and-forth with the enigmatic woman who he assumes has rescued him from drowning. In each act of the play, the duo delve deeper into Mengele’s beliefs, and come closer and closer to confronting his most heinous crimes – the terrible medical experiments on prisoners of Auschwitz and active participation in the Nazi genocide of the European Jews.

Mengele is monstrous, but not a monster. He speaks of human fears, desires, and ideas. But his blustering, self-aggrandizing arrogance defends his crimes with a range of increasingly thin justifications – he was trying to create a purer human race, his research is still used today, he tried to save as many as he could. And most horrifyingly, he claims to have loved the children he took from their parents and experimented on, and for a moment it’s easy to believe him. Marriott gives a tremendous amount of himself to the role. It’s clearly draining to portray such a vile man so convincingly, but Marriott is unrelenting.

These ideas bounce off of the mysterious woman portrayed by Stefanie Rossi with an enigmatic, charismatic reserve. The two have strong chemistry and play off well against each other, but at times I felt Rossi’s character was a little too obvious a plot device. A stronger identity and purpose of her own would have made the interplay between the two more believable despite the fantastical elements. Both performers commit with an incredible amount of energy but sometimes rush through their dialogue – it’s never a bad thing to allow some space for words to resonate.

Between acts, a screen displays documentary footage – a common technique to authenticate and situate a work on the Holocaust. Given the inventive premise of the show, it would have been nice to see something more creative than the typical black-and-white shots of Auschwitz. They still did a fine job of contextualising Mengele’s horrific philosophy, especially (I imagine) for those less familiar with the subject.

I’m still not sure if it is a good or bad thing that we are allowed to indulge in the idea of divine justice, or at least an ironically fitting fate, for the ‘Angel of Death’. In real life, Mengele died without ever being caught. Still, the show achieves what it sets out to do. We are shown in vivid detail how men who commit unimaginable crimes justify them to themselves and to the world. We see the immense danger in believing, for whatever reason, that some human live are worth more than others – a sobering reminder we must not forget.

4/5 stars

–Tamika Glouftsis

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