Review by Tony Watts
The relationship of totalitarian regimes to the arts is malign, politicos wanting to neuter them, fearing freedom of expression as a direct threat to their control of the populace and its communal thought process. Censorship of work, persecution of its creators and campaigns branding it as degenerate are as common in contemporary dictatorships as they had been previously in the dark days of Nazi Germany. The cabaret scene in the Weimar Republic was anathema to the German reactionaries of the time, as Stefan Zweig observed: ‘amid the general collapse of values, a kind of insanity took hold of precisely those middle-class circles which had hitherto been unshakeable in their order.’ Young ladies proudly boasted that they were perverted; to be suspected of virginity at sixteen would have been considered a disgrace in every school in Berlin.’ A 1938 exhibition, Entartate Musik, was mounted by propagandist Hans Severus Ziegler to demonstrate how necessary it was to ban this music, describing it as ‘Un-German’ as it was Jazz-influenced and written by Jewish and black composers: ‘Effigies of wickedness’. It was in this atmosphere of repression that a body of work was created which is explored in a lively collaboration between English National Opera (ENO) and the Gate Theatre, currently enjoying a run at the tiny West London venue until June 9.