Presented by Karin Schmid and Anna Thomas Productions
Reviewed 19 February 2020
After impressing the audiences at both the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes in 2019, TABOO is now immersing South Australian audiences in the unknown historic horrors inflicted against German women by a powerful woman from the Nazi-era onwards.
We as a society, know much about the horrors of World War II and Nazi Germany, though, there is still much to still uncover as we discover in TABOO.
As the audience settles into silence, a male voice plays over the speakers in what seems to be an advertisement promoting women cooking for men in order to keep them happy and tame. This sets the scene for ….. A host enters the room, welcoming us all to a different type of (fictitious) talk-show – one in which we meet a guest from history who has actually passed away. Today we will be meeting the German social worker, Käthe Peterson, who was active between 1932 and 1966 and will today be talking about why her work was incredibly important for scoiety. Haven’t heard of her? You may never forget her name after what you hear within the next hour…
In Käthe’s talk show introduction, the audience learns that she was a “seemingly self-less” person, a woman who had survived two world wars, had studied law and political science, a woman who rose within the ranks of career men and a woman who had won awards in honour of her life’s work. From this you would gather that perhaps this was a woman to admire and look up to, but, you couldn’t be more wrong.
The audience soon learns that Peterson, in her high up position in social welfare, seemed to prey on women who were trying to simply survive or who were lonely with the loss of their husband to the front line in the war. Peterson believed that the roles of women were solely to have children (the only reason a woman should have sex should be to procreate), and that their duty was then to stay home and raise those children. Women that were caught doing “the wrong thing” during the war (which included even simply speaking to a man on the street who wasn’t family or their husband) were then taken away to a forced “re-education program”. This, as explained by voiceovers of women who experienced these programs, was pretty much a prison in which the women endured forced labour, forced isolation, forced examinations and even forced sterilisation.
Peterson believed that a women’s sexuality must be controlled, while men simply couldn’t help themselves. She deemed many women who were simply trying to survive the war, along with their children and families, through any means necessary which did sometimes include prostitution. She saw these women as being morally deficient with a “sexual waywardness” that was found in “anti-social” women.
Throughout the show, the voiceovers which fill the room with the horrors of what was inflicted on the women are all true accounts pulled from history and given a contemporary platform. Although read by modern performers, they still capture the haunting, life-changing horrors that these women were put through, hauntingly filling the audience’s ears and further establishing the cruelty of Peterson’s actions.
The show is not only performed by Karin Schmid (with South Australian performer Anna Thomas playing opposite), but also written by the Austrian-born actress. Schmid has always had an interest in people, having studied Psychology and Alcohol Counselling before pursuing the Arts. When studying the history of prostitution, an occupation that women today are still fighting for rights within, she stumbled across a minor document mentioning Peterson. From here, there was only more and more information to discover about the horrors this woman subjected many of her same gender too, but that had largely gone un-noticed. A fantastic aspect about the show, which many others do not offer, is that you can chat with enthusiastic Schmid about her research and the information she has obtained to gain more understanding about Peterson and her actions.
TABOO is confronting, especially when the victims voices fill the room with tales of the horrors they suffered. It is, though, a powerful piece of theatre that addresses historic events otherwise pushed to the side, leaving the audience in deep thought long after the production ends. TABOO is a theatrical history lesson not to miss at this year’s Fringe.
Reviewed by Georgina Smerd
Rating out of 5: 4 Confronting history
Venue: The Adina Treasury Tunnels: Square Room at Treasury 1860, 144 King William St, Adelaide, SA, 5000
Season: 21 February – 4 March 2020
Duration: 60 mins
Tickets: $18 – $25