Pride and prejudice
Michael Billington enjoys three new cautionary plays that explore the increasing need to be wary about who you let into your home
It’s a quiet time of year in London theatre, but venues outside the West End make up for the lull. None is more productive than the Orange tree in Richmond, which has gone into partnership with actors touring Company to come up with a real cracker: Winter Solstice by Roland schimmelpfennig. It’s a German play, here translated by David tushingham, which you could see as a warning against the dangerous rise of local, far-right political parties, but, like all good drama, has a universal resonance.
albert, a writer, and his filmmaking wife, Bettina, are in the midst of a simmering quarrel over the arrival of the latter’s truculent mother, Corinna. to make matters worse, Corinna has invited a man she met on the train, Rudolph, to visit. He is polite, civilised, wellmannered; he plays Bach and Chopin on the piano, amuses the couple’s unseen child and flirts with Corinna. However, albert smells a rat and with good reason, as Rudolph is clearly a neo-nazi.
‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing’ is a phrase attributed to Edmund Burke. It’s certainly the point made by this play. albert and Bettina are classic middle-class liberal intellectuals. Faced with a toxic intruder, they are too busy with their own affairs (literally, as they’re both involved extra-maritally) to take decisive action. as they prevaricate, Rudolph insinuates himself into their household.
Other plays, such as Max Frisch’s The Fire Raisers, have shown that we heedlessly admit destroyers into our homes, but the message has acquired fresh urgency in today’s unsettled Europe.
Ramin Gray’s production wittily shows order dissolving into chaos: neatly arranged desks are reshuffled, a Christmas tree made out of ice-cream cartons and pencil cases gets overturned.
the performances also capture the shifts in personality: Nicholas Le Prevost shows the insidiously plausible Rudolph revealing his lethal prejudices; Kate Fahy as Corinna discloses the loneliness of the discarded parent; Dominic Rowan and Laura Rogers, as the hosts, increasingly vent their rage on each other rather than on their guest.
It’s a memorably disquieting play that confirms albert’s point that we are all, and not only in Germany, haunted by the ghosts of the past.
the past is also a potent force in The Convert at the Gate theatre in Notting Hill. this is the work of a Zimbabweanamerican actress and playwright, Danai Gurira. set in salisbury, Rhodesia, in 1896, it’s a fascinating study of a black Catholic teacher, Chilford, and his determination to turn a shonaspeaking girl, Jekesai, into a model Christian convert. He gives her a new name, Ester, weans her away from her ancient
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