by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor edited by Frank Dunlop.
Soho Theatre 21 Dean Street W1D 3NE To 27 July 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat 2pm.
Audio-described 12 July.
Captioned 18 July.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7478 0100.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 July.
Terrifying tale terrifically told.
Kathrine Kressmann’s 1938 novella was so popularReader’s Digest broke its ‘no fiction’ rule to reprint it. The original publishers restyled the American author as the male-sounding ‘Kressmann Taylor’ because the work didn’t fit contemporary ideas of what woman wrote.
On stage it has a concentrated fury, though its two characters never speak directly to each other. In a kind of 84 Charing Cross Road re-imagined by Alfred Hitchcock, they write each other letters. At first, in autumn 1932 Martin feels happy he’s returned to a democratic Germany, leaving his art gallery partner, the Jewish Max, in California. Life’s cheaper in Germany; Martin’s family has ten servants for the cost of two in the USA.
Life becomes cheaper in other ways as Hitler takes control. At first, Martin mixes fascination at the Nazi leader’s strength with fear he may be a lunatic. Soon he’s accepted Nazism for its patriotic pride, standing with facial features adopting a dreamy resemblance to Hitler, hands joined Führer-like in front of his body, naming his latest child Adolf.
To Max’s amazement, his friend begins blaming Jews for social ills, while claiming no dislike for individuals. Ever-closer censorship of mail only leads to Martin using work-headed notepaper.
Then Max’s actor-daughter, accepting a Berlin engagement, is hissed offstage as a Jewess. Martin is too cowardly or confused to help her, and too certain of his behaviour to conceal how he let her be caught and beaten to death.
Jonathan Cullen follows every turn in Martin’s mind, including rejection of Max, before his certainty sags, he drops to his knees and invokes their friendship. For Max uses their correspondence to depict Martin as an enemy of Nazism. Simon Kunz’s portrayal acquires a cold, steely determination as the use of letters becomes a revenge mechanism instead of a convenient dramatic contrivance.
Steve Marmion’s production employs just enough detail for uncluttered clarity, letting the men face each other only in bitter accusation, while a low mix of interference and suggested melody in Steve Seymour’s soundscape suggests distance and angst as the action tightens its tragic grip on a spellbound audience.
Max: Simon Kunz.
Martin: Jonathan Cullen.
Director: Steve Marmion.
Designer/Costume: Katie Lias.
Lighting: Katharine Williams.
Sound: Steve Seymour.
Assistant director: Mark Maugham.