The White Factory, Marylebone Theatre, 2023
Photo: Mark Senior
  • Theatre, Drama
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The White Factory

3 out of 5 stars

Adrian Schiller gives a terrific performance in a drama about the Łódź ghetto that could definitely have been made more sensitively

Andrzej Lukowski

Time Out says

‘The White Factory’ is the second play by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, who it’s worth stressing is very much exiled from his home country, where he was recently sentenced in absentia to eight years in prison for his vocal opposition to Russia’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine. 

He’s best known for his 2002 post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel ‘Metro 2033’, but ‘The White Factory’ is a totally different creature, being a partly fictionalised account of coerced Jewish collaboration with Nazi occupiers in the Łódź ghetto in Poland during World War Two.

At its core is a real-life figure: Chaim Rumkowski, the head of a local orphanage who was appointed the ghetto’s community elder by the Nazi occupying forces. He’s a queasily fascinating figure: for several years, his power over the ghetto was absolute. As Glukhovsky writes him, he started out as a decent enough guy, whose essential play was to make the ghetto – including the titular pillow factory – so productive that the Nazis would find it indispensable. But total control over his tiny, desperate corner of the world corrupted him.

Here, Adrian Schiller’s Rumkowski demands loyalty from men and favours from women in exchange for patronage, which can save people from deportation to the death camps. But he is left a broken man – and a figure of hate – after his infamous September 1942 speech, in which he tells the community that he has no choice but to turn over every child under the age of ten to the Nazis in order to fulfill their latest victim quota. It’s a superb performance from Schiller, a masterclass in human fallibility, a man destroyed by his own weakness but also a mistaken belief that simple pragmatism could overcome actual evil.

It’s a shame that he’s not actually the lead character. That’s Mark Quartley’s fictional Yosef Kaufman, an idealistic young lawyer who begins the play quitting his job at a prestigious local law firm in righteous protest at an antisemitic client, and ends it taking a job rounding up other people’s children in an effort to save his own. Like Rumkowski, he isn’t inherently evil, but becomes morally unmoored by his attempts to engage with an even system. By contrast his decent, down-to-earth wife Rivka (an excellent Pearl Chanda) is disgusted by what he’s doing… but has no idea about what else to do, other than wait to die.

‘The White Factory’ has some very valid and psychologically acute stuff to say about how victims become collaborators. But some of it feels like traumatic cliche: Nazis blowing the brains out innocent Jewish people over minor transgressions and whatnot. And the fictional Kaufman’s journey from nobility to degradation feels too much like a simplistic didactic lesson, as if Glukhovsky didn’t trust the audience to grasp the significance of Rumkowski’s story. The suggestion that anyone who survived the ghetto did so by selling their soul feels, at the very least, hugely over-simplistic. 

It’s solidly directed by fellow Russian exile Maxim Didenko. A few whimsical animated sequences feel jarring, but the use of live video with a black-and-white filter to relay the action to a big screen is a nice flourish: it looks hauntingly like an old movie, the sense we’re watching something simultaneously present and past.

‘The White Factory’ is pretty good. There’s a lot more money behind it than the average fringe production, and it shows with a cast that’s worthy of the National Theatre. But I don’t think the script would pass muster there yet – there’s a level of care with regard to this most sensitive of subjects that hasn’t been fully met.


£21.50-£66.50. Runs 2hr 40min
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