It is best not too look on Antony Sher’s adaptation of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man as a plain piece of theatre. It is far too powerful and affecting for that, this description of a period - mercifully quite short - of imprisonment in Auschwitz.
Jewish Sher is obviously the right man to interpret Levi’s words and feelings. The fact that he is also gay, which Levi wasn’t, adds another layer of understanding about life in this appalling place.
As a chemist, Levi was given privileges - if that is the right word. But this circumstance did give him a sense of detachment, which Sher conveys admirably with his toneless voice, seldom rising to emotion, as if desensitised from what he observes going on around him. Release, when it comes at the hands of the Russians, is not a reason for rejoicing. He may not have suffered physically as much as others, though he shared their hardship, but Sher makes one aware of how much terror, brutality and incomprehension Levi endured at the hands of the Germans who worked there.
A major part of the success of this - one can only call it a recital rather than a play - is due to the director Richard Wilson, with the help of the designer Hildegard Bechtler, the lighting designer Paul Pyant and the composer of the stark and spare cello score, Jonathan Goldstein. The minimalism they provide is the only way to make this a true experience.