Astoria by Tony Britten. The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 408 Brockley Road, London SE4 to 15 April 2023. 3***. William Russell.

Tony Britten has written and directed a deeply felt play about the Austrian journalist and playwright Jura Soyfer who died from typhus in Buchenwald in early 1939. A Communist and a Jew Soyfer, a political journalist and cabaret performer, wrote several plays, in particular one called Astoria, as well as sketches for a political cabaret in Vienna. The problem is that Britten never quite manages, given that he has opted to write a kind of cabaret with songs and a series of sketch scenes play, to tell the audience early on just what it is all about. The events in pre-war Austria that led to the Anschluss really are so distant as to be pretty well forgotten. One sits there wondering who these people are? As the evening progresses, however, it gathers power and by the end with the cast singing the song Arbeit macht frei Soyfer and the composer Herbert Zipper created while in Dachau, it makes its message quite clear. But although we get scenes from the cabaret with its songs and assault on the mythic world of Astoria, about the efforts of his English publisher to rescue his manuscripts as Soyfer faces arrest, and his relationship with Helene Ultmann which work in themselves they never quite coalesce into a coherent drama. It is a brave piece but maybe it needed a director who could see it with a different eye. It sent me to google and his was a life worth learning about. The cast, however, is good once they get to grips with the acoustic of the Studio – to start with they are all just a little too conversational and difficult to hear – and Joshua Ginsberg makes Soyfer, who was only 26 when he died, someone one wants to know more about. Google before you go – but go.

Jimmy Berg/Pistoletti/The Applicant: Sam Denia.

John Lehmann: Taylor Danson.

Jura Soyfer/Paul: Joshua Ginsberg.

Martin Miller/Hupka: Benjamin Chandler.

Helli (Helena) Ultmann/ Gwendolyn/ Rosa: Olivia Benjamin.

Director: Tony Britten.

Set Design: Sorcha Corcoran.

Costume Design: Alice Carroll.

Lighting Design: Stuart Glover.

Songs composed by Jimmy Berg and Tony Britten.

Production photograph Davor Tovarlaza @the ocular.

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