The White Factory offers a sharp historical lens on the Holocaust, providing valuable insights and tools to better understand contemporary times.
The White Factory is Dmitry Glukhovsky’s debut play. It had its world premiere in Marylebone, directed by Maxim Didenko. It is currently running at the Marylebone Theatre in London until November 4th.
The Łódź Ghetto Chronicles
Set in the Łódź Ghetto during the harrowing days of World War II, The White Factory unveils the story of Yosef Kauffman, a principled lawyer caught in the treacherous web of Nazi occupation. This two-act play takes us on a convoluted path of survival, bargaining for life and dignity, and the agonizing quest for redemption in the aftermath of the war. Within this compelling drama, Kauffman and his fictitious family intersect with pivotal historical figures, such as SS commander Wilhelm Koppe, implicated in the deaths of 340,000 people, creating an emotionally charged narrative.
The play commences with the establishment of the Łódź Ghetto in 1940, a sinister symbol of human resilience amidst oppression. Under the leadership of Jewish Elder Chaim Rumkowski, the ghetto embarks on a desperate bid to secure its inhabitants’ relevance to the Nazi oppressors. Labour becomes the currency of survival, and an industrious enclave emerges, ironically named the “city of productivity.” The “White Factory”, located within the austere walls of a converted church, produces feather-stuffed pillows, an ironic symbol of hope in dire circumstances.
High-Stakes Negotiations and Post-War Struggles
Kauffman finds himself drawn into high-stakes negotiations with the Nazi occupiers, driven by the fervent belief that cooperation may be a lifeline for his people, a decision laden with unbearable weight.
In 1942, the ominous specter of deportation to extermination camps casts a chilling shadow over the Łódź Ghetto’s inhabitants. Kauffman and his family find themselves among the condemned, but they miraculously escape death’s grasp.
The second act of The White Factory unravels the poignant odyssey of Kauffman’s post-war existence, marred by the indelible scars of the ghetto. He grapples with the trauma of those horrific days and battles the demons of guilt stemming from his Faustian bargain with the Nazis.
A Compelling Blend of Fact and Fiction
Dmitry Glukhovsky’s compelling play blends historical and fictional characters, shedding light on the Holocaust’s tragic past. Adrian Schiller’s nuanced portrayal of Rumkowski avoids heroism or villainy, revealing the desperation of a man negotiating with madmen. Mark Quarterly delivers a powerful performance as Yousef Kaufman, a Jewish lawyer confronting discrimination as World War II looms. His determination to escape Poland with his family is thwarted, leaving them trapped in a new, oppressive reality. James Garnon’s chilling rendition of Wilhelm Koppe, the local Nazi Commander, exudes malevolence through unsettling stillness. Matthew Spencer adds a brutish terror as Mordhke, Koppe’s right-hand man. In a scene of profound gravitas and chilling authenticity, the exchange between Koppe and Rumkovski unfolds as the SS officer exerts relentless pressure on Rumkowski to consign young workers, namely children, to their tragic fate.
The staging and direction of The White Factory have been masterfully executed by Maxim Didenko, known for his stark and minimalist approach. The use of live video and projections on a whitewashed set adds immediacy and authenticity to the production, effortlessly transforming the set into different locations—a family bedroom, an SS commander’s office, a gas chamber. Regardless of the location, it remains a place of horror. Didenko has created a production that is both gripping and disturbing, leaving a lasting impact on audiences long after the curtain falls. Galya Solodovinikova’s plain yet efficacious stage design creates unwavering and terrifying moments inside the minimalist white cube that becomes a powerful and disturbing landscape throughout the play.
Taking a Stand
Glukhovsky, known for his recurrent confrontations with the Russian government, took a firm stance against the war when Russia invaded Ukraine, leading to his departure from the country. By June, his bold criticisms had resulted in his inclusion on the Russian federal wanted list, accused of “discrediting the Russian Armed Forces.” He was subsequently tried and sentenced in absentia, receiving an ominous 8-year prison term.
The White Factory stands as one of the most thrilling and thought-provoking off-West End productions in recent years, deserving a place on the national stage.