VON RIBBENTROP’S WATCH
by Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.
Tour to 16 October 2010.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 September at Oxford Playhouse.
Life turned into art.
Originally a radio play (no, originally an incident in the life of co-playwright Laurence Marks) this stage version is toured by Oxford Playhouse and Watford Palace (whose boss Brigid Larmour directs). It’s a family drama, where secrets and guilt emerge alongside comic moments.
It doesn’t have much dramatic momentum, but its incidents are mostly involving while they happen, as Marks and Maurice Gran (who first suggested his writing partner turn the watch incident into a play) go round a Jewish family: grandmother, two sons (widowed David, and Gerald married to the convert Ruth) plus Maurice and Ruth’s student daughter Sasha.
She’s the character least understood by the authors (veteran creators of such TV as Shine on Harvey Moon andBirds of a Feather) and after their prominence in the first half, Sasha and her situation fade away. Something of a thematic warm-up act, the authors have little use for her when the major issue emerges.
Set at the family Passover meal, the rituals of which only convert Ruth seems to care much about, this explodes the family by exposing the origin of wine-merchant Gerald’s timepiece. It’s the scene that justifies the play, its realism broken only when Gerald, guilt-infected and alone, receives an unlikely Passover visitor.
Comic elements mix with examination of clashing ethics and practicalities. And Mrs Roth, traditionally religious (the Roth of God perhaps?), completes her transformation from termagant mother-in-law – something already begun given the sharpness of Gwyneth Strong’s sniping hostility – to join the flawed humanity of all who live by their decisions in life.
Barbara Young separates the complexity of life from earlier stated positions through Mrs Roth’s recollections. There can be a slight forced element to the playing elsewhere, though Andrew Paul’s David is convincing in his mixture of the easy-going and moments of anger. But it’s Nicholas Woodeson’s unstarry star-performance which has a compulsive energy and depth.
Woodeson doesn’t steal a scene, it comes to him naturally. Whether sitting at the side munching, or expressing Gerald’s concerns, the performance seems to open a deep perspective onto the character. He’s the one you can’t help but watch.
Mr Blackburn/The Collector: Paul Brightwell.
Sasha: Jessica Dickens.
David: Andrew Paul.
Ruth: Gwyneth Strong.
Gerald: Nicholas Woodeson.
Mrs Roth: Barbara Young.
Director: Brigid Larmour.
Designer: Emma Wee.
Lighting: Charlie Lucas.
Sound: Rich Walsh.
Fight director: Alison de Burgh.
Assistant director: Scott Le Crass.