Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Reviewed – 2nd August 2019
“Hitler’s Tasters is innovative and powerfully original. The whimsical blend of past and present is risky, but ultimately an effective choice.”
Hilda, Liesel, and Anna are typical teens. They love to gossip, dance, talk about boys, and gush over film stars. There is one important difference though. Their job is to taste Hitler’s food to make sure it isn’t poisoned.
Written by Michelle Kholos Brooks and directed by Sarah Norris, Hitler’s Tasters is the Mean Girls/Third Reich crossover we never knew we needed. It’s enthralling, unbelievable, and inescapably relevant. Although the play is set in 1940s Germany, and based on the real young women selected to taste Hitler’s food, Brooks and Norris tell the story with a modern spin. The girls – Hilda (MaryKathryn Kopp), Liesel (Hallie Griffin), Anna (Kaitlin Paige Longoria), and Margot (Hannah Mae Sturges) – are Gen Z: American accents, dialogue peppered with likes and oh my gods, iPhones ever-present. The concept is totally unique; Brooks’ razor sharp humour pulls laughter from an astounded audience.
With Kopp as the Regina George reminiscent ringleader, the girls braid each other’s hair, take selfies, squabble, and hope to catch a glimpse of Blondi (the Fuhrer’s dog). They discuss what an honour it is to serve the Fatherland in such an important capacity. They’re lucky… aren’t they? The more time they spend together, the more chinks begin to appear in their conditioning. Brooks uses an intuitive sense of pace to draw us into the power dynamics and drama of girl-world, enticing us to forget where we are; but the second we do, it’s mealtime again. All giggling, arguing, or daydreaming abruptly halts at the ominous sound of the guards’ approaching footsteps.
Hitler’s Tasters is innovative and powerfully original. The whimsical blend of past and present is risky, but ultimately an effective choice. “This job sucks!” Sturges whines (and perhaps no one has ever been more justified). Ashleigh Poteat (costume) deserves special commendation for clothes that are somehow seamlessly H&M meets Third Reich. Although the dialogue is a bit choppy at times, and the characterisations may not be the most sophisticated, the girls’ familiarity as Gen Z-ers is an eye-opening reminder that a society complicit in atrocity isn’t just a historical, safely distanced phenomenon. People today – people with Starbucks and Instagram – are letting it happen all over again. Brooks is clever about weaving in the modern references: “The Fuhrer is going to Make Germany Great Again!” “They’re separating children from their parents.” The urgency of this story is cutting. Its relevance stings.
Norris and the design team – Ashlee Wasmund (choreography), Christina Tang (lighting), and Carsen Joenk (sound) – expertly manage the balance between the frivolous characters and their chilling context. The lights cut as guards enter with torches. They shine the lights into the girls’ faces and upturned hands: inspection. Sequences of puppetry-like movement to a contemporary soundtrack carry them through the Russian Roulette that is their breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then it’s back to celeb crushes: Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant.
Because of the madness of the Edinburgh Festival, it’s the fate of many shows to slip from people’s memories. You’ll remember this one.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Hunter Canning
Greenside @ Infirmary Street until 24th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019