Theatre Review: THE LONG SHADOW OF ALOIS BRUNNER – Factory International, Manchester

The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner. Photo Credit: Tom Dachs

Provocative and multifaceted, THE LONG SHADOW OF ALOIS BRUNNER weaves together history, personal struggle, and the complexities of justice and displacement.

3.5 out of 5 stars

THE LONG SHADOW OF ALOIS BRUNNER, the latest work from the writer Mudar Alhaggi and performed by Collective Ma’louba, is a multifaceted work dealing with many themes. It traces how events interact and their causation, as well as the struggles faced by Syrian refugees who have settled in Europe.

The main premise is that of Alois Brunner; the most wanted Nazi war criminal who disappeared only to lead a shadowy existence in Syria, supported and protected by the authoritarian regime from the 1950s and especially the 1970 Corrective Movement, or coup, of Hafez al-Hassad until Brunner’s death – the date of which remains unclear. Brunner’s work with founding the Syrian intelligence service and their use of torture, in turn, created the conditions by which academics and creatives found their position in their homeland impossible – so they became refugees, exiled by a person himself.

The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner. Photo Credit: Tom Dachs

The work is provocative, blending factual elements with imagined meetings with Brunner in Syria, a technique which causes the writer of the play to become disconnected from both reality and his fellow collective members who, left on their own and have to piece together the work from fragments left to them when Mudar ceases contact. These are historical documents such as letters, snippets of research and communications from the writer before his ceasing communication.

Wael Kadour and Mohammed Al Rashi excel in the roles of Mudar’s collaborators and weave a path through fact, fiction, underlying menace and their own biographical input, which is thought-provoking and asks the audience a series of questions on disappearance, justice, and the violence encountered during such upheaval. Is it part allegory – a cause-and-effect narrative – or is it more than that, as the lives of Mudar Alhaggi and Alois Brunner seem to intertwine and collide? On one level, it is merely a tale, but on another, given the personal nature of Kadour and Al Rashi’s thoughtful and natural narrative, it is deeper than that and invites the audience to see the world from their eyes.

The Long Shadow of Alois Brunner. Photo Credit: Tom Dachs

If there is one criticism, it is that the play is not quite linear in narrative, changing rapidly in time, space, and country, which can lead to some disjointed scenes. However, it could be argued that this technique only adds to the sense of the fracturing of time and place and, of course, the lives of a refugee.

There is no doubt that this is a highly personal work and disturbing in the factual air of real lives, but it is also a window into the history of Syria and, ultimately, its betrayal of its own people.

THE LONG SHADOW OF ALOIS BRUNNER runs at Factory International, Manchester, until 23 March 2024.