Antony Sher’s enthralling account of the struggle – and the triumph – of bringing Primo Levi’s Auschwitz memoir to the stage.
When Primo was first announced by the National Theatre, every performance sold out even before tickets went on sale to the general public. When the show opened in September 2004, Antony Sher’s incarnation of a middle-aged Primo Levi recounting his year in Auschwitz was hailed as one of the most remarkable performances of recent years.
In Primo Time Antony Sher tells of his long-held ambition to find a way of adapting Primo Levi’s book, If This is a Man, for the theatre. He tells of the difficult negotiations with the Primo Levi Estate, who were adamantly opposed to any stage or screen version of the book. He tells of research trips to Auschwitz and the house in Turin where Levi was born and where he died. And he tells of the workshops and rehearsals through which he built a performance and shaped a show that would remain utterly true to the book.
The two years that make up Primo Time also coincide with a troubling new factor in Sher’s life as an actor. Early on in the book, he asks, ‘If you’re currently suffering from chronic stage fright, is it a good idea to write yourself a one-man show?’ His battle to conquer what he calls The Fear offers valuable insights into an actor’s life, as does his relationship with Primo’s inspirational – but ruthless – director, Richard Wilson: ‘Victor Meldrew without the laughs!’ compains Sher at one point.
Primo Time is the story of a remarkable journey, often very dark, but also shot through with vital flashes of humour, culminating in a piece of theatre that goes a long way towards describing the indescribable.
‘At the end of this remarkable performance there was a silence unlike any other I have experienced in the theatre’ Daily Telegraph
‘The performance has the precision, the unforgiving but humane objectivity of Levi’s writing. This is acting of the purest and most unostentatious kind, unadorned by self-pity or visible virtuosity. This is theatre at its most human, most moral and least indoctrinating’ Sunday Times