Hotel Modern’s KAMP is one of the most worthwhile pieces of Toronto theatre you’ll see this year
While KAMP (playing at Harbourfront’s Enwave Theatre) is described as a puppet show, I found the effect more like watching a group of children playing in a schoolyard. One of them leads the model train into the station; another unloads the passengers. And in a dollhouse just inches away, the third is collecting the shoes, clothes and eyeglasses abandoned in the anteroom of a gas chamber, the better to process the next batch of prisoners.
KAMP tells the story of a sunrise-to-sunset day in Auschwitz, one of the Nazi extermination camps. Three performers move among thousands of intricate, eight-centimetre puppets, telling the story in short, unspoken vignettes. And through clever use of tiny cameras, their pictures projected above the landscape as a sort of sky, the audience grasps the true, ground-level scale of what is unfolding.
From the theatre’s balcony, these tiny puppets look like exactly what they are: wire puppets attached to boards. But from ten centimetres off the ground, the camera lingering over every face in this enormous crowd, they look eerily, undeniably human.
One of the pleasures of watching KAMP is figuring it out: yes, yes, we know how this story ends. But this design, this staging and these performances are laced with hidden sparks of insight. Consider their use of colour; consider the choice of tiny puppets; consider the presence and absence of music. The cleverness and forethought of this production is one of the best aspects to an outstanding piece of theatre, and I don’t want to spoil these questions for you. But you should expect to find new and interesting questions of your own. You should expect to find unusual or out-of-the-blue answers. And you should expect to rethink, re-examine and reconsider how you relate to the holocaust.
Everything about this design–from the neon blue sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” to the tiny piggy bank in the tiny suitcase abandoned next to the tiny pair of shoes–is perfect. The cardboard-and-popsicle-stick concentration camp is perfect. The movement of the puppets is perfect. The use of video and in-house sound to augment specific scenes and encounters is perfect. There are no wrinkles. There are no forgotten or overlooked details. KAMP is exactly as long, exactly as dark, exactly as serious and exactly as excruciating to watch as it ought to be, and it’s one of the most worthwhile pieces of theatre you’ll see on a Toronto stage this year.
As an aside, this is a show which desperately wants to be seen from the balcony. Do yourself a favour and sit as high as you can. Front row of the top balcony is ideal.
- KAMP plays through Sunday the 26th of May at the Enwave Theatre. (Harbourfront)
- Remaining performances are at 8 PM on Saturday the 25th, and 4 PM on the 26th.
- Tickets for remaining performances are $35, with some discounts available. See website for details.
- Tickets are available online, by telephone (416-973-4000), or in-person at the Enwave Theatre box office.
Photograph of KAMP by Herman Helle.