Saviour of refugees
PUBLISHED: 17:10 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010
RECOGNISED only recently in his native Portugal – and largely unheard of in this country – Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a hero to thousands of Jewish refugees during the
RECOGNISED only recently in his native Portugal - and largely unheard of in this country - Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a hero to thousands of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, writes Mark Campbell.
As Portuguese consul in Bordeaux he issued 30,000 transit visas, against the orders of his superiors, to people fleeing the Nazi invasion of France.
Many were Jewish, but Sousa Mendes did not refuse anyone a visa, regardless of race, religion or political belief. Alice de Sousa's new play, Aristides - The Outcast Hero, in performance at the Greenwich Playhouse, seeks to build a picture of this largely forgotten man whose strong Catholic faith made him a saviour to so many.
It's a strong, lucid production with a large cast of 13 keeping the action moving swiftly along to its unexpectedly poignant conclusion in a paupers' hospital.
De Sousa's script dwells on the less obvious details of the Jews' appalling treatment under the Nazis. People wet themselves while standing for hours in queues, while the description of how they receive their infamous numbered tattoos is rightly shocking. What is perhaps missing is a sense of drama or danger.
Michael Hucks presents us with a supremely unruffled plenipotentiary whose religious conviction brooks no argument. Right and wrong are absolutes here. There is no room for shades of grey, the only flaw in the man's character being a brief affair with a French singer.
One can't help but feel that this version is more hagiography than history, and its brevity almost works against the complex issues it tackles.
However, it is well directed by Bruce Jamieson and the cast are uniformly excellent.
Particularly memorable are Robert Paul, Daniel Moor, Anna Ruben and Suzanne Goldberg, as a present-day narrator.
Comparisons with Schindler's List are inevitable, but Aristides is worth seeking out for the light it sheds on an equally fascinating wartime hero.
The next production at the Greenwich Playhouse is William Shakespeare's Pericles from February 24 to March 22. Tickets: 020 8858 9256.
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