The Theatreguide.London Review
Once Upon A Time In Nazi Occupied Tunisia
Almeida Theatre Autumn 2021
You won't get much idea of what the Nazis were up to in Tunisia from Josh Azouz’s peculiar comedy ‘Once Upon a Time in Nazi Occupied Tunisia’. The writer is too busy chasing jokes and being mischievous to bother including any realism in his story.
It is 1942 and the French Colony has been occupied by the German Army who have set up brutal camps where Jewish males are forced to work. This has disturbing implications for the Jewish couple Victor (Pierro Niel-Mee) and Loys (Yasmin Paige), along with their Arab friends Youssef (Ethan Kai) and his partner Faiza (Laura Hanna)
The play opens with the prisoner Victor buried up to his neck trying to help his friend the camp guard Youssef carry out an order to urinate on the prisoner’s face. Between humming a jolly tune and reciting poetic speeches to try and relax Youssef, he jokes about his plight. And the audience laughed. It was such fun.
Not as much fun as Adrian Edmondson’s impressive performance as the cartoonish German General known to the troops as Grandma. His amiability constantly shifts between avuncular sociability and lethal menace.
He fancies an evening with a Jewish woman and, given the Jewish quarter is out of bounds to the soldiers, he persuades Victor with threats to give him the address of Loys, since they live outside the Jewish quarter. This is too much for Youssef who later that day rescues Victor so they can check Loys is okay.
Meanwhile over dinner with Loys, Grandma claims he is a Zionist and that Hitler is also a Zionist. Josh Azouz is such a tease. Note he is hitting the hot button topic of the Nazi connection to Zionism but only in the words of a Nazi General (who we all distrust) claiming senior Nazis are Zionists.
Unfortunately, that’s about the level the serious conversations get in this play. Mostly it’s ridiculous nonsense that includes a Nazi General tied up in a box but still able to contribute the odd supposedly humorous remark everybody can hear, and Nazis chatting about the sex life of a male viper who has three penises.
There are the occasional improbable jokes that are worth a smile. When a Nazi General asks the Jewish woman Loys if she could in the next minute come back as anything, would it be a Jew, she replies ‘No because there is a Nazi in my kitchen.’
That one and a few other quips are worth a tiny slot in a stand-up fringe show but not really worth making into a play. The jokes undercut the drama to no purpose. They destroy any seriousness to the issues and make the one hundred and fifty-minute performance feel like a self-indulgent mess that will just barely avoid irritating every political persuasion.
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