New End London NW3
FOR AN optimistic moment I thought that Ninon Jerome’s production would do for Candida Cave’s biographical play what the Menier recently did for Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George.
Cave’s subject is the German/ Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon who produced a series of delicate and hauntingly beautiful gouache drawings before she died at 26.
One of the pictures is of a birch tree, the German translation of which portends Salomon’s death at Auschwitz Birkenau in 1943. Salomon’s artistic achievement was to chart her life through a series of over 700 works entitled Life? Or Theatre?
In her art, Salomon reflected the suicidal urges she inherited from her mother’s side of the family; the romantic infatuation with musician Amadeus Daberlohn and her encounters with the rising Nazi tide.
To tell this story, Cave’s play switches between flashback and the cattle truck which transported Salomon — played with intensity by Selina Chilton — to her death.
The problem with anchoring a drama in an Auschwitz-bound cattle truck is that in order to make the play watchable you end up deliberately failing to depict the squalor. Sharing this rather clean and roomy truck are Lotte’s fellow passengers — her husband, an elderly couple, a widow and a gentile journalist.
OK, so we can use our imagination for travelling conditions. But more tellingly, drama is not the automatic result of tragedy, and Cave relies too heavily on the result of tragic circumstances of Salomon’s short life and brutal death to sustain her play.
There is also a lost opportunity provided by Lotte Collett’s set, two thirds of which is a white blank stage which could have been used to project Salomon’s paintings but is, instead, a design void.
Still, there are some good performances here and Salomon is a fascinating subject. I just wish the production was less conventional and more creative, rather like Salomon. (Tel: 0870 033 2733)