A truly unique and astounding show that needed no greasepaint: a bare set, save for a few chairs, and two master storytellers Clare Muireann Murphy and Daniel Morden owning the stage using simply words and gesture. A pared-down humble starting point for an exciting, edge-of-the-seat storytelling adventure, The Remarkable Tale of Robert Desnos was often hilarious, at times harrowing and deeply poignant throughout.

Cast your mind, for a moment, to one of those characters you must have come across from time to time, who can tell you the most mesmerising story that just blows you away. Imagine that while telling that compelling tale, they also reveal the mysterious death-defying power of storytelling itself.  This is what happened on 13th October at the Capstone Theatre when Clare and Daniel brought to life the utterly Remarkable Tale of Robert Desnos.

Except, these tall stories are unravelled against the backdrop of a Nazi concentration camp near the end of World War Two. Parisian writer, Robert Desnos, hailed as a ‘prophet’ of the French surrealist movement, aka Lord Parmesan and a group of fellow inmates start to gather in the washroom each day to tell stories, beautiful, funny stories – moral tales, painting word pictures of the fantastical and the surreal – stories of hope and humanity in the most desperate of settings.

Who would have thought a production set in such dire circumstances could be so uplifting, entertaining and captivating!  As Clare and Daniel expertly weave their magic, the audience is transported back and forth across international borders, making acquaintance with the man who wouldn’t tell anyone his dream, a foolish King of Hungary, a riddle-loving Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Leila the Palestinian baker who taught her village a lesson, the nasty blacksmith who truly was worse than the Devil himself and the many real-life characters of the concentration camp washroom, for whom the stories took on a life of their own and helped them survive the cruelties and inhumanity of a prison that was a piece of hell on earth.

Adverse Camber Productions specialises in storytelling to ‘transport audiences into the worlds and soundscapes of these incredibly diverse oral tales – enabling us to explore and enjoy them anew’.  In bringing to the fore the truly astonishing events that led to Desnos and his fellow inmates’ last minute reprieve from the gas chambers, this production not only demonstrates the amazing power of storytelling, but how the oral stories we tell each other really can ‘reveal the deepest drivers of our collective human psyche’.

Standing outside the gas chamber, Desnos reads the palms of the condemned, telling fantastical yarns of possible future lives full of joy, creating a surreal moment of calm and inexplicable hope at the point of death, shaking something in the guards, who half hold out their own palms, anxious of their fate. Instead of the gas chamber, they send the prisoners back to the camp, which is liberated just six weeks later.

Robert Desnos, born in Paris in 1900, was a surrealist poet, journalist and member of the French Resistance who was captured in 1944 and sent to Auschwitz.  He was moved to Buchenwald and then Theresienstadt, where he tragically succumbed to typhoid just two weeks after the liberation of the camp, his final poems accidentally destroyed following his death.  His fellow inmates, whose lives he saved with the power of his imagination, told the incredible story after he died, and what a remarkable tale it is!

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Images Courtesy of Adverse Camber Productions

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