By Tom Stoppard
Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DA to 13 June 2020.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Runs: 2hr 35 mins. One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5120.
Review: William Russell 14 February
Supposedly Tom Stoppard’s last play Leopoldstadt is a deeply moving, sprawling familyl saga covering some sixty years in the lives of a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna. Works about the holocaust tend to be about the horrors of the death camps, the spirit of survivors, this is about how people can almost sleep walk to their fate. Life for the Merz and Jakobovicz families in 1895 is fine. The Merzes are well off, the family business profitable, and while Vienese society may not admit Jews to its inner ranks they have their own comfortable world – they know about survival, they have been doing it for centuries – and they are content with their lot. Vienna is full of Jewish artists, doctors, painters. It is a wonderful time culturally. Herman Merz (AdrianScarborough) has married a Christian, Gretl (Faye Castelow) and thinks he fits in. But times move on. People have affairs, the political climate changes, there is the First World War to shake up that established order, and by 1924 life is very different, a little more uneasy, unsettling. But Jews have been there before; they know about pogroms and survival and while what to do is discussed nobody is very worried.
The scene which truly shocks is set in 1938 when the local Nazi officer comes to tell them to pack up and leave, only one suitcase, and do as they are told, no objections – and call him Herr Doktor. They obey. In today’s world where the far right is growing ever more powerful it is a lesson for everyone. It is the it couldn’t happen here, could never happen again. But, of course, it could.
Leopolodstadt has a huge cast, some 40 strong, something never seen in the West End these days, a long running time and, while it works in the theatre slowly but powerfully, it will probably work even better when it is, as it surely must be, screened for audiences in cinemas. Identifying just who each person is can be a problem in a theatre where there are no close-ups and knowing who these people at different times in their lives can become hard to follow. There are also the children who inevitably grow up and realising this adult was that child can be a problem. Arguably the play would make even greater television than theatre. But as a last play, which Stoppard implies it is, as a look at his own Jewish roots, although his family was Czech, not Austrian, it works impressively. I saw it in preview but in performance it can only have improved.
It is magnificently set – most of the action takes place in the Merz drawing room until that last scene in 1955 when we learn just what became of them, by which time the elegance of the turn of the century salon has become bleak and black as the list of where they ended up is read out. Adrian Scarborough is magnificent as Herman, Faye Castelow matches him as Gretl and Luke Thallon creates a magnificently arrogant young officer who causes havoc by having an affair with what he regards as a little Jewess to be tossed aside when he has satisfied himself with no regard to his actions – and the result of that is revealed at the end of the play.
The play is not perfect in that there are long, discursive speeches to follow, the web of relationships is complex and it needs the family tree in the programme to help one make sense of them, and it is crammed with information, not all of which is vital. But it has an elegiac sweep, stirs the emotions and is one to see if at all possible, although whether the run continues after June 13 is anybody’s guess. It must cost the earth to put on and will be rarely revived simply because of the demands it places on numbers so one can but hope for a filmed record. It is one of those rare plays for which awarding stars is really not necessary – Stoppard has come up with something unique and grand.
Grandma Emilia: Caroline Gruber.
Herman Merz: Adrian Scarborough.
Eva: Alexis Zegerman.
Gretl: Faye Castelow.
Ludwig: Ed Stoppard.
Wilma: Clara Francis.
Ernst: Aaron Neil.
Hanna: Dorothea Myer-Bennett.
Paul: Ilan Galkoff.
Young Jacob: Jarlan Bogolubov/Daniel Lawson/Ramsay Robertson.
Young Sally: Maya Larholm/ Libby Lewis/ Beatrice Rapstone.
Young Rosa: Olivia Festinger/Tamar Laniado/Chloe Raphael.
Poldi: Sadie Shummin.
Hilde: Felicity Davidson.
Jana: Natalie Law.
Fritz: Luke thallon.
Hermine: Yasmin Page.
Jacob: Sebastian Armesto.
Nellie: Eleanor Wyld.
Sally: Avye Levents.
Rosa: Jenna Augan.
Aaron: Griffin Stevens.
Kurt: Alexander Newland.
Zac: Joe Coen.
Otto: Noof McEwan.
Mohel: Jake Neads.
Percy Chamberlain: Sam Hoare.
Young Leo: Toby Cohen/Jack Meredith/Joshua Schneider.
Young Nathan: Rhys Bailey.
Mimi: Maya Larholm/Libby Lewis/Beatrice Rapstone.
Bella: Olivia Festinger/Tamar Laniado/ Chloe Raphael..
Heini: Zacchary Cohen/Louis Levy/ Montague Rapstone.
Civilian: Mark Edel-Hunt.
Policeman: Joe Coen.
Policeman: Jake Neads.
Nathan: Sebastian Armesto.
Rosa: Jenna Augen.
Leo: Luke Thallon.
Director: Patrick Marber.
Set Designer: Richard Hudson.
Costume Designer: Brigitte Reifenstuel.
Sound Designer & Original Music: Adam Cook.
Movement: Ej Boyle.
Hair, wigs & makeup: Campbell Young Associates.
Production photography: Marc Brenner