Arrows & Traps’ TARO is a beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected, playing now at the Brockley Jack Theatre
“In the lens it looks different”
If TARO is to be Arrows & Traps’ final production, then it’s a hell of a high note to go out on. Bringing together so much of what has made them an enjoyable and enlightening company to follow, it’s a swansong to be proud of as the #FemaleFirsts season turns its attentions to Gerda Taro, a pioneering photojournalist whose distinction as the first female war photographer killed in action proves to be far from the most interesting thing about her.
Born Gerda Pohorylle in Stuttgart 1910, the rise of Nazism splintered her Jewish family as she, her brother and her parents were forcibly ejected to different countries. Finding herself in Paris, a chance encounter with fellow refugee Endre Freidmann sparked an interest in photography which they then parlayed into careers in war photography that revolutionised the genre. Their work covering the Spanish Civil War was the fateful making of them.
Ross McGregor’s play, written and directed by him as per, succeeds so well because it takes the notion of biography just as a jump-off point to journey into something far more intriguing. For one, Taro’s ghost narrates the story with the help of Greta Garbo who sees a film in the making, eloquent movement by Matthew Parker adds an almost expressionistic touch to some dreamlike sequences, and Samuel Sim’s score amps up the cinematic feel (the smidge of Destiny’s Child ‘Survivor’ is inspired!).
And if the story is ostensibly set in the interwar period, McGregor’s writing touches on a real timelessness. Lines like “do you know how many women like me have had conversations like this with men like you” and “my script was written by someone else” could come from any point in the last century, if not further, and characterise Taro’s dual struggle – adopting the pseudonym Robert Capa with Freidmann allowed them to duck the anti-semitism that devalued their work but her own artistic independence was still hampered being yoked thus to a man’s name.
This dreamlike progression through Taro’s life is visually lush (Ben Jacobs’ excellent lighting is impressive throughout) and well acted by Cornelia Baumann and Lucy Ioannou as the non-ghost and ghost versions respectively, supported by a strikingly dry Beatrice Vincent as Garbo and Tom Hartill’s compassionate lunk Freidmann. And then, and then…all the parts of the play shift, re-coalesce and come back into focus for a deeply affecting and beautifully considered final scene that leaves you in no doubt as to how personal this story is. A beautiful tribute to a historical figure we have sorely neglected.