Retreating German troops lock nine Russian soldiers into a monastery basement in
They have been stripped of their clothes and rank, abandoned without food or water.
Hunger and thirst strip them also of their everyday humanity, driving them to murder and cannibalism.
They strive to retain their customary behaviour and moral attitudes. “It’s just a cock, men,” one nude soldier declares as they try to inject normality into a situation of desperate abnormality.
Their captain tries to hold his men together. They pin their hopes on the possibility of a better tomorrow, struggling to believe that Soviet Russia will ultimately triumph.
But after a while, as hunger kicks in, they collapse into a “Dog Eat Dog” fight, with rules, structure, and rank all failing to prevent a collapse into barbarism.
The play implies that human beings, in the end, have an inherently selfish nature.
In the programme notes, the author asserts that “we are essentially animals that have evolved notions of society to prevent us from harming one another” and that “human beings don’t have an innately good nature… but we have evolved to embrace the notion of a common good.”
The play is a powerful and challenging portrayal of men in a horrific situation, but we can nevertheless oppose its chilling assumptions about human nature.
Doesn’t it just show the lengths to which extreme circumstances can drive people.
It is a potential that does not negate our essentially social nature.
The play suggests an additional theme – the extent to which Stalinist Russia enacted policies that dealt barbarically with its people.
It is a powerful, disturbing and brave play with strong performances all round in a fine, taut production.