Abyss or absence of humanity? How far are we willing to go for survival? And if we survive, who do we become?

Judgement, Stephen Bradley’s one-man show, tells the story of a soldier and six others from his unit during their time as prisoners of war. It is about the fight for survival and the sacrifices made in an unimaginable situation of darkness. The collective bond between the soldiers questions humanity, its selflessness and the individual instinct to survive.

Judgement is performed at the Bread & Roses Theatre as a preview for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer. Bradley embodies one of the surviving soldiers and faces the audiences who act as the judges of his story and his fate. The simplicity of the set and the delivery of the performance channel the attention solely on Bradley’s outstanding performance in order to deeply connect with the audience. The result is an intimate hearing about raw moments of selflessness and self-loss in a situation of either collective suicide or collective survival through individual sacrifice.

Seven men, seven Polish soldiers who fought together in the war, are now seven prisoners of the enemy. They are trapped together in a cell isolated from civilisation and abandoned by their captors. As the days pass by without any water or food, they slowly start to decline. The dominant voice of commander Ruben pleads for their collective bond to face the individual group’s fight for survival. A lot of hair is used on stage to instead of matches to decide about their individual fate. But this individual sacrifice and collective feeding on each other, strips down any contours of humanity and the self. Mistrust and disgust cause suicide, murder and madness to separate the group and to disconnect from the own self. When the final rescue arrives, the question is if one can survive this – the cell, the presence of the others, the eyes of society and their own mirror reflection.

Judgement puts the audience in an active role to contemplate humanity in an extreme situation facing life and death, and the self and the others. Bradley’s raw play and performance is not only a psychological portrayal of survival and sacrifice, but also an intellectual sand emotional investigation into group dynamics and roles. The lines between perpetrator, follower and victim merge together with selflessness and survival instincts to present an image of a dystopian delirium based on a real-life event.

Bradley’s intense and individual eye contact with single members of the audiences leaves them emotionally and physically paralysed. This way of sharing the soldiers’ story leaves a deep impact with an impossible answer. Therefore, it would be beneficial to offer a platform for the audience to digest the thoughts, emotions and images of Judgement. The role of the audience would thus be extended to transform from witnesses and silent judges to active participators sharing and discussing the soldiers’ fate. Furthermore, the questioning of the one-sidedness of the told story could be an additional catalyst for ethical debates.

Judgement is an important contribution for what it means to be human under extreme circumstances. Bradley’s voice and presence opens the audience’s senses to a story between survival and sacrifice, the collective and the individual, and between taking action and “responding to circumstances”. It should not be missed during this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for anyone who aims to avoid simple entertainment.

Judgement played at The Bread & Roses Theatre until 25 of July as an Edinburgh Fringe Preview. 

Photo: Chamber Piece