This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

> > > Nabil Shaban: The First To Go

26 May 2008

Robert Softely reviews a production of Nabil Shaban's controversial and hard-hitting play, which looks at the Nazis' plan to create a master race and its implications for disabled people

Front cover of play by Nabil Shaban First to Go

Front cover of play by Nabil Shaban First to Go

Renowned disabled performer, writer and activist Nabil Shaban has spent 10 years taking this show from concept to realisation, and at more than three hours long, it can easily be described as an epic in many ways. The story follows three inmates of one of first Nazi sanatoriums for disabled people, showing how they survived from day to day and the imaginative devices they used to cope and save themselves from completely giving up hope. They tell each other an ongoing story of heroes and villains, one that happens to closely match the true actions of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a disabled Nazi officer who tried to assassinate Hitler. Without giving too much away, it is clear that the story isn’t going to be uplifting and, without being trivial, we all know what happens in the end.

Close to the start of the production we’re faced with three naked disabled people on stage. Audience reaction to this was palpable at the back of the stalls – clearly they knew they shouldn’t find this any more offensive than if the actors were non-disabled, yet they clearly did. The performances for the rest of the show were consistently strong – there certainly wasn’t the sense of a weak link in the cast. Nabil Shaban, Robyn Hunt and Alan Clay kept the strength of the disabled inmates believable throughout and newcomer Nick Field, as our hero Claus, gave a bold, engaging performance.

For me the problems with the play related to what didn’t happen. During the first act there’s very little narrative action – we learn about the various characters almost exclusively through direct address to the audience. There is no real dramatic tension to be felt and, as such, when things end up as they do, it’s difficult to truly feel sympathetic or regretful. To put this very simply, the play is just too long and doesn’t ‘do’ enough.

However, my main gripe with it is that I can’t see what it could achieve in 2008. The actions of the Nazis were so horrendous and their treatment of disabled people (as well as Jews, gay people and others) so incomprehensible that a modern-day audience can easily distance itself from the events of the Second World War and deny any responsibility. At one point during the show the idea of desiring a disabled baby to maintain a diverse society is mentioned, but this isn’t sufficiently explored in a way that would force people to question their own belief systems. I believe we have a lot to learn from the Nazis' treatment of disabled people, and there’s much discussion to be had of the fact that society is, even today, more 'understanding' of euthanasia when disabled people are involved, but unless we’re forced to question how far things have come since 1933, we can easily dismiss this subject to the history books.


Betty Blue

24 June 2008

The world of the play needs to written in such a way that it remains true to the time in which the play was set, you should not impose a 21st Century mindset onto characters that are supposed to be incarcerated in the 1940s, that would be make for sloppy, and indifferent writing. If we must talk in tedious over-simplistic analogies for those of us who didn't understand the play, it is not the job of a playwright to join the dots, it is the job of a playwright to provide an audience with all the dots they need to understand what they are watching. I understood the play in all its relevance for today, perfectly, thanks.

Robert Softley

20 June 2008

Hi WW, just wanted to quickly repond by saying that I can and DO see how the actions of the Nazis relate to us in 2008, but I don't think this play did anything to 'join the dots' between then and now. From what I saw, everything was in a historical context - there was nothing that made the play relevant to today. But hey, that's only my opinion! x

Wicked Witch

4 June 2008

Do you know what you're on about mate? Did you watch this play? I did, and frankly, I think you were in the Traverse that night, not the Lyceum. The play is too long, you're right, but you cannot see what the Nazis have to do with 2008? Hello!? Have you heard of the Mental Health Act?

Add a comment

Please leave your comments. They will display when submitted. DAO encourages critical feedback, but please be considerate. DAO reserves the right to edit or remove comments that don't comply with our editorial policy, which you can find on DAOs 'About' pages.

Your e-mail address will not be revealed to the public.
HTML is forbidden, but line-breaks will be retained.
This can be a URL of an image or a YouTube, MySpaceTV or a Flickr page (we'll handle the media embedding from there!)
This is to prevent automatic submissions.