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Thursday, September 22, 2011


(Pinhas Mittelman as Benjamin and Roy Horovitz as Hans)

Review by Caroline Smart

The Witness Flagship Production of this year’s Witness Hilton Arts Festival was Timekeepers, one of three productions presented by the Embassy of Israel, the others being My First Sony and Volunteer Man.

These productions came under fire from certain organisations which had united in calling for the Israeli plays to be withdrawn from the festival, among them being The South African Artists Against Apartheid collective, Media Review Network and Coalition For a Free Palestine.

(See Billy Suter’s report from The Mercury on

Set in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, Timekeepers deals with three prisoners. There’s the garrulous and outrageously camp Hans (Roy Horovitz), the elderly reticent and tetchy Benjamin (Pinhas Mittelman) and the bullying, manipulating Kapo (Omer Etzion, who alternates in this role with Rami Baruch). All three actors give outstanding performances, each character a carefully crafted and believable whole.

“If you want to get out of here, you’d better start ticking” is the advice that Benjamin gives a timepiece from the pile of broken watches he is fixing for the Nazis. And while the watch may indeed find its way out of the camp, there is no way that Benjamin will be able to follow suit. The best horologist in Berlin, time is in his hands but he cannot manipulate it.

Suddenly, his solitary existence is disrupted by the arrival of Hans, a wannabee opera singer. He initially refuses to respond to Hans’s overtures of friendship but eventually a relationship develops until Benjamin is willingly showing Hans how to mend watches and they are arguing the virtues of Puccini and Verdi.

Identifying their status within the prisoner community, Hans has a pink triangle sewn onto his prisoner’s outfit labelling him a homosexual. Benjamin has a yellow star because he’s Jewish. The Kapo has a green inverted triangle showing that he is a criminal but he’s also a prison functionary which gives him authority over the other two.

Written by Dan Clancy and directed by Lee Gilat, the play provides an insight into concentration camp life and the fears and hopes of prisoners wrenched from their families and loved ones.

Timekeepers is described as “The most performed Israeli piece of theatre in the world". It is therefore disturbing that such a beautifully crafted piece of theatre should have become a pawn in political debate, particularly as it sends out a strong message against man’s inhumanity to man. - Caroline Smart