REVIEW: SUDS’ Epic Black Hands/Dead Section
This year’s SUDS major production of Van Badham’s sprawling Black Hands/Dead Section, directed by Zach Beavon-Collin, is an enthralling production that overcomes a rather weak script. Black Hands follows a group of West German students as they revolt against their government’s participation in the Vietnam War. This revolt soon turns into a terrorist cell with the students training with Palestinian agents, committing robberies and bombings. This group is most well known to the world as the Baader-Meinhof gang. SUDS brings this play to life with immense passion.
Badham’s play is a single-minded attempt at dramatizing more than 10 years of difficult, morally tumultuous history. Rather than focusing on the major players, Badham has crafted a play that involves a huge number of characters but offers very little insight into the higher-ranking members of the Baader-Meinhof cell. Short, often violent, scenes are employed which focus more on the terror this group committed than on character. Characters only have the opportunity to develop, slightly, if they have survived until the Third Act.
Despite the flaws in the script, director Zach Beavon-Collin creates an engaging production. Seldom has three hours seem to pass so quickly. Beavon-Collin’s biggest strength is in giving the audience a sense of the anarchy that the gang caused: large crowd scenes run wild with energy, which though initially are peaceful, soon become bloody and violent. Perhaps Beavon-Collin’s greatest coup is his chosen aesthetic. By employing projections (smartly designed by Tayla Penny) and the industrial PACT theatre, Beavon-Collins alludes to the aesthetic of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s early films. Interestingly, the Baader-Meinhof gang and Fassbinder came to prominence in the late 1960s. This ‘look’ for the production truly establishes the rebellion, both artistic and political, that was occurring in West Germany.
The cast of 30 manages fantastically well in portraying more than 70 characters. This feat alone requires considerate praise. The ensemble created a fantastic atmosphere in which the leading players could shine. Alice Birbara’s Gudrun Enslin was a feat of dedication moving from anger to tears to starvation. Cameron Hutt, as Andy Baader, perfectly complemented Birbara. Hutt achieved an effortless naturalism, which made the audience understand how Baader came to power within the gang. Helena Parker as Ulrike Meinhof shone.
The cast of Black Hands/Dead Section. Photo: Clare Hawley.
From the first moment standing in the dark illuminated by a projection of herself, Parker illustrates the moral issues that Meinhof faced. Emma Throssell, Louisa Thurn and Bianca Farmakis, despite the lack of focus Badham’s script afforded them, also managed to strongly convey their characters, who were other members of the Baader-Meinhof gang. Unfortunately, each of the fantastic performances cannot be named but the whole cast must again be praised for creating a wonderfully dark atmosphere.
SUDS’ 2016 major production overcomes the faults inherent within Van Badham’s script to create a fantastically engaging and thought provoking show of Black Hands/Dead Section.
Black Hands/Dead Section plays from 3rd – 6th August and 10th – 13th August. The production plays at the PACT Theatre, 107 Railway Parade, Erskineville.