Gurs - a ghastly word "like a tear stuck in the throat", said the poet Louis Aragon - was the name of an internment camp for "undesirables" in the French Pyrenees. Inmates ranged from defeated Spanish republicans, German anti-fascists and Resistance fighters to Jews rounded up under the Vichy regime for onward transfer to concentration camps. It is chewy subject matter for a play commissioned by the European Theatre Convention as part of a series on refugees, exiles and displaced populations.
Author Jorge Semprun was himself exiled to France during the Spanish civil war and spent two years in Buchenwald camp for participating in the Resistance and many more engaged in efforts to overthrow General Franco. Writing in three languages for a multinational cast, he tackles Gurs as a melting pot of language, culture, politics and religion. Spaniards prepare a show alongside a Sephardic violinist and volunteers from the International Brigades, one being Ernst Busch, an actor from Brecht’s troupe who escaped from Gurs in 1941 after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union. Interwoven are modern-day scenes about actors preparing a show about Gurs inmates with earnest, rather thunderous arguments about relevance to contemporary audiences.
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