5 stars *****
IN THE MAIN HALL AT THE HUB, about 150 chairs are arranged in a rough cluster. On a dozen of those chairs, men in everyday clothes stand and sing with the voices of angels, as the audience gathers. They are members of the Collegium Vocale of Ghent, one of Europe’s leading male voice choirs; and they are singing the first group of Schubert lieder that lead us into this extraordinary show from Muziektheater Transparant of Ghent, which interweaves this music with extracts from the memories of Dutch people who collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War.
Through two separate monologues – one for a female hospital assistant, magnificently played by Carly Wijs, the other for a confused, enthusiastic SS soldier, recreated with terrific force by Dirk Roofthooft – we listen to their explanations of how ordinary people became caught up on the losing side in that war, and of how they lost twice; not only physically and politically, but morally.
It’s an immensely sad, powerful, and disturbing show, in which the music sometimes seems to rebuke the crude self-justifications of the speakers, and sometimes seems cheerfully complicit with it; until the end, when Schubert’s rhythms give way to a magnificently deconstructed, questioning coda by modern Flemish composer Annelies Van Parys, sung against an oddly chilling black-and-white image of the kind of idyllic European rural scene which could never, after 1945, look quite the same again.
What’s painful and magnificent about Ruhe is its openness to the possibility that with the wars and atrocities of the 20th century, our old continent inflicted moral wounds on itself which can never be healed, despite the best intentions of artists like the founders of the Edinburgh Festival. But this act of reflection and remembrance is so rich, so intelligent, so profound, that its effect is not depressing; but full of the sense of a great truth, told with a subtlety and integrity that lifts the heart.
Until 24 August