Theatre Preview: The First to Go, various dates, Edinburgh and Glasgow

19 May

The return of Nabil Shaban to the Scottish stage in The First to Go (Lyceum Theatre 23-24 May, Tron Theatre, 5-7 June) is something of an event. This is mainly due to his sheer talent and inability to take part in any production that could be dubbed “dull”.

His latest venture is something of a rarity in that it tells the story, apparently for the first time, of Hitler’s Euthanasia programme for disabled people.

I was lucky enough to meet up with Nabil a few years back for a chat, and he was full of ideas, enthusiasm and passion for his work, past, present and future. I wish I had as much energy. He mentioned this idea – I think it was a potential film script at the time – and it sounded groundbreaking then.

I’m going to quote at length from Nabil’s YouTube page as it sums up the play better than any of the pre-publicity I’ve read so far:

THE FIRST TO GO, the First Victims, in Hitler’s systematic drive to purify the Aryan race were people with physical, sensory, mental and psychiatric disabilities. Gas chambers were originally created to speed up the culling of such unwanted “Useless Eaters”, the term used by Hitler to describe disabled people.

Nabil Shaban’s play, THE FIRST TO GO, doesn’t just tell the story of Disabled Victims, it also tells of Disabled Heroes and Disabled Villains.

The Disabled Victims, Siegfried, Heide and Helmut…it is their destiny to be given lethal injections.

The Disabled Villain, Dr. Josef Goebbels, a man who so hated being crippled with a clubbed foot, he chose to hate all disabled people, he masterminded the propaganda campaign advocating Euthanasia.

The Disabled Heroes, Claus von Stauffenberg, the one armed, one eyed “terrorist” who attempted to blow up Hitler.

And Brunhilde, the German Army nurse who becomes disabled and consequently joins the ranks of the persecuted but in doing so, helps thwart Hitler’s plan to rid the world of so-called “imperfect” people.

Here’s a look at a trailer for the play, edited by Nabil. It lasts for ten minutes but it’s worth your time:

I’m going to miss the Edinburgh leg of this tour, but will do my best to get over to Glasgow in June. If you do make it along, please feel free to send in a review or add a comment below, I’d love to know what you thought.

The First to Go is on at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre on Friday 23 and Saturday 24 May and at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre from Thursday 5 – Saturday 7 June. See websites for details.

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One Response to “Theatre Preview: The First to Go, various dates, Edinburgh and Glasgow”

  1. Jessica Pritchett 22 June, 2008 at 2:42 am #

    Hi Jon!! I certainly hope you had a chance to attend at least one performance of this brilliant play. After traveling from the US to Huddersfield, I was fortunate enough to attend the 11 & 12 June performances. It was more than worth seeing twice and I am hoping to convince American theatres – disabled, non-disabled, university, etc. – to invite the production to the US so this story can be told even more. I was very disappointed to find out that most UK venues approached by Benchtours turned down the opportunity to showcase “The First to Go” on their stage.

    Everyone in the UK who also thinks this is a brilliant play should not be afraid to contact their local theatres and demand to see it there.

    There is only one thing I must add to Nabil’s You Tube page description. Siegfried, Heidi and Helmut are very heroic, too. They may have originally been destined to spend their lives in the sanatorium and are eventually destined to die in the T4 programme, but they still fight heroically – each in their own way. I’ve always considered Siegfried to be the true hero of the play.

    Yes, it is absolutely a must see. The following is a copy of a response I left to the review Joyce McMillan wrote for The Scotsman – a response left unapproved by the moderator on her site to date. This is not only my review of the play but also an answer to many of the reviews I have read on the internet:

    “As a recent visitor to the UK from the United States, I was very fortunate to be able to attend the 11 June performance of The First to Go in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. I thought the play deserved 5 stars + and returned the following night to see it again.

    If your idea of a wonderful night at the theatre must contain a dramatic production following an exact recipe of elegant pity, then, no, this play is not for you. But if you are looking for a dramatic production that will tell the truth – no holds barred – in a deeply compelling and compassionate way leaving you with plenty of food for thought and discussion, The First to Go is definitely a must see.

    Since this story covers a previously untold and important piece of history, which has much relevance to the present and future, I am left to wonder how it can contain “too much information”. A phrase I find in reviews from professional critics and members of the general public alike. Programmes such as the Nazi T4 or today’s Eugenics need to be brought out of the shadows and spoken of at great length as both are set up so that each and every one of us have the potential to be the next to go. Something we should all think about the next time we catch a cold or are injured – suddenly making us “imperfect”, “useless” and a “pollutant to the gene pool”.

    I am also left to wonder at how a piece of drama – this one especially – can be described as “too angry”. Why should any part of the Holocaust not make us angry? Or the idea of a person being locked away for no other reason than that their body does not fit into what is considered “normal” while those who are truly evil can roam free. Why should we, or the characters, or the actors not be angry or be afraid to express that anger?

    I have also been told by others that it is “too much reality”. Apparently the stereotypes that those with disabilities should be seen and not heard, remain nothing but victims for everyone else to pity, and that there is nothing more for us to learn about the Holocaust or our society are still running rampant.

    Bravissimi to Nabil Shaban for keeping it real and giving us all the information he can – shaking up the stagnate idea of “perfect theatre style” in the process. Bravissimi to the entire cast for their passion and dedication to this play. Being in attendance for more than one performance gave me the opportunity to witness these actors so dedicated to the messages of the play that their lines often started flowing straight from the heart instead of verbatim from the script. Having had the opportunity to speak to some of them afterwards, I also came to realize just how seriously they took the telling of this story. Bravissimi to Peter Clerke for fighting so valiantly to find venues and continuing on despite the Scottish Art Councils ruling.

    Boo, Hiss to all the venues who were daft enough to decline having this brilliant play on their stage. And Boo, Hiss to the Scottish Arts Council for taking away Benchtours funding.

    I have been telling everyone about this amazing and important play, and hope to see The First to Go and everyone from production on stage in America soon.”

    Jessica Pritchett – Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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