by Ödön von Horváth translated by Christopher Hampton

Southwark Playhouse Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 16 July 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3.15pm.
Runs 1hr 10min No interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 4 July.

Dark picture of humanity strongly painted.
There’s little hope, and no faith or charity in Hungarian-born Ödön von Horváth’s 1932 play. Having learned German von Horváth wrote in that language, settling in Germany till the Nazis came (just in time to prevent this play being performed), then moving round Europe ahead of Hitler’s forces until he died in Paris in 1938, aged 36.

He’d been warned against going out – not by a secret agent but a clairvoyant. Having stayed at home all day, he went to see Snow White at the cinema at night. There was a storm, a tree-branch was torn off and hit him on the head, killing him. It might have been part of a Horváth scenario.

His Germans, bobbing along barely above the poverty line, struggling against mass unemployment plus the difficulty of keeping within the law and above suspicion when short of the means to live, while events seem to turn inevitably against them, are part of an anonymous society.

A relation struck up on the basis of a chance resemblance falters when it comes up against duty. Respectability tries to disguise its economic necessities, and a character who begins trying to raise money by offering scientists her corpse when she dies, fails to make a sale, or indeed die.

This is Elisabeth, a young woman forced into lies that are inevitably found out. She’s played by Rebecca Oldfield with a wide smile that starts by suggesting wild optimism, before increasing pressures show it to be part of the coping mechanism of someone who eventually can’t cope.

There’s little friendliness here, none of it going deep. Most actors play several characters, but even when a character reappears it might, often enough, be someone new. Against the sliding, dark-glass panels backing designer Signe Beckmann’s anonymous square stage, its side-paths adding to a sense of sudden appearances and disappearances, director Leonie Kubigsteltig develops a picture of a city where lives slide in and out of view.

Life, let alone love, is haphazard in this society, which is organised way above these people’s heads in a play of its time that resonates clearly today.

Dissector/Veteran/Magistrate: Julien Ball.
Baron/Chief Inspector/3rd Policeman: Paul Bhattacharjee.
Maria/Joachim: Emanuella Cole.
Irene Prantl/Worker’s Wife/2nd Policeman: Helen Lymbery.
Assistant Dissector/Magistrate’s Wife/Detective: Penelope McGhie.
Alfons: Jude Monk McGowan.
Elisabeth: Rebecca Oldfield.
Chief Dissector/Book-keeper: Roy Sampson.

Director: Leonie Kubigsteltig.
Designer: Signe Beckmann.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Movement: Angela Gasparetto.
Dramaturg: Nic Wass.
Assistant director: Adrian Figueroa.

2011-07-05 01:04:37

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