Impossible to dramatise with taste and reality
By Ian Shuttleworth

Published: January 26 2008 00:38 | Last updated: January 26 2008 00:38

“At first some people were expecting ‘theatre’!” The actor and director Richard Wilson is talking about Antony Sher’s Primo, which he directed on stage and now, in its television version, is to be screened by BBC Four as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday.

For its successful run on stage in both London and New York, Sher did not “dramatise” If This Is A Man, Primo Levi’s harrowing first book about his experiences as a prisoner in Auschwitz; rather, he left the words as bare as possible. What mattered to the original author was bearing testimony. “Primo Levi did have this desire to tell people about it,” says Wilson. “He’d tell strangers about it on the train. But he was a very shy man.” So Sher made a solo piece in which he played Primo as almost apologetic in the tone of his account but none the less driven. There was little or no “acting out” of events, which, Wilson recalls, resulted during stage performances in “a six-minute period where people got used to the idea that nothing else was going to happen