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

Country Life Every Week - - Performing Arts -

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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