Flammable ma­te­rial

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

Royal Court, Lon­don SW1

THIS MAY turn out to be the most con­tro­ver­sial Royal Court pro­duc­tion for over a decade. It all de­pends on how the theatre’s tra­di­tion­ally left­wing au­di­ence re­acts to a play which por­trays the man be­hind a cam­paign of ter­ror as a bead-wor­ry­ing, Mus­lim doc­tor of phi­los­o­phy.

That there are Mus­lim con­spir­a­tors plot­ting to de­stroy Bri­tish so­ci­ety is be­yond doubt. But imag­ine that this ver­sion of Max Frisch’s 1958 play — trans­lated by Alis­tair Beaton and di­rected by Ramin Gray — re­vealed the fig­ure be­hind the con­spir­acy to be Jewish. How would Jews in the au­di­ence feel? How then, do Mus­lims feel? As­sum­ing Gray and the Court’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Do­minic Cooke are alive to th­ese is­sues, they have clearly made the judg­ment that, for this re­vival to chime with post-7/7 Bri­tain, the risk of of­fend­ing Mus­lims is worth tak­ing.

Frisch’s orig­i­nal theme was Nazism, ask­ing to what ex­tent so­ci­ety is com­plicit in the rise of fas­cism? But here the ques­tion is, will we be de­stroyed by the those who we let into our home? Frisch’s fool is the jit­tery Bie­der­mann (Will Keen), a wealthy hair-re­storer man­u­fac­turer who lives in a town that is be­ing de­stroyed by arsonists. Though he is about to be the next vic­tim, Bie­der­mann is no in­no­cent. His re­fusal to share his prof­its has re­sulted in the sui­cide of his busi­ness part­ner.

Per­haps it is his guilt that ex­plains his tol­er­ance of two sin­is­ter home­less men in his at­tic. Even when he dis­cov­ers that the pair (Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch and Paul Chahidi) have in­stalled oil drums in his roof, Bie­der­mann is still in de­nial. “He won’t call the po­lice,” chime the cho­rus of fire fight­ers, “be­cause he is guilty too.”

It might be over­sim­pli­fy­ing things to view Bie­der­mann as rep­re­sent­ing a so­ci­ety whose lib­eral tol­er­ance of im­mi­grants is based on guilt; and the philoso­pher (played by Mu­nir Khairdin) as em­body­ing the ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy be­hind mil­i­tant Is­lam. But it is tempt­ing. ( Tel: 020 7565 5000)


Young Vic, Lon­don SE1

THIS re­vival of Peter Weiss’s ver­ba­tim work based on the tran­scripts of the 1963 Auschwitz tri­als in Frank­furt, is a har­row­ing un­in­ter­rupted 80 min­utes of tes­ti­mony and atroc­ity cut down from the orig­i­nal five hours.

What gives the play an en­tirely new view­point is that it is per­formed (in French with sub­ti­tles) by a com­pany of Rwan­dan ac­tors just 13 years af­ter the geno­cide that took place in their coun­try.

The rea­son­ing be­hind Dorcy Rugamba’s sim­ply staged pro­duc­tion, in which each mem­ber of a white­suited cast play both wit­nesses and de­fen­dants, is that when it was staged in Ki­gali, it al­lowed Rwan­dans to con­front their atroc­ity by view­ing some­one else’s.

That pur­pose is lost at the Young Vic. But build­ing on the no­tion that the Holo­caust is a story that should be heard by ev­ery­body, Rugamba teaches the les­son that it can be told by any­body. Where I fear that les­son fell on deaf ears is with the mem­bers of the au­di­ence who walked out dur­ing the sick­en­ing de­scrip­tions of atroc­ity and sadism per­pe­trated by the Ger­mans in Auschwitz.

I can un­der­stand the de­ci­sion not to go to a play about Auschwitz be­cause it will be too up­set­ting. But the de­ci­sion to go should be made with a de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay. Al­most as un­com­fort­able was the cel­e­bra­tory whoop­ing at the end of the play. ( Tel: 020 7922 2922)


Almeida Theatre, Lon­don N1

CARYL CHURCHILL’S gen­der-bend­ing, time-dis­tort­ing com­edy was pretty rad­i­cal when it was first seen in 1978.

The first act, which is set in a Bri­tish colony in Africa, takes Vic­to­rian at­ti­tudes by the scruff of the neck. At the cen­tre of a dys­func­tional fam­ily is pa­tri­otic pa­tri­arch Clive (James Fleet), whose wife Betty is played by a man; their young son Ed­ward is played by a wo­man, and their black ser­vant is played by a white ac­tor.

In the sec­ond act the play shifts to the late ’70s, al­though char­ac­ters are only 25 years older.

Thea Shar­rock’s pro­duc­tion gets a lot of en­joy­able mileage out of lam­poon­ing pa­tri­ar­chal at­ti­tudes. And the evening is a fas­ci­nat­ing les­son in act­ing. It is re­mark­able how James Fleet’s Cathy — a (mous­ta­chioed) lit­tle girl — be­comes just an­other char­ac­ter.

But Churchill’s tar­get of es­tab­lish­ment at­ti­tudes ei­ther no longer ex­ist or only sur­vives in dif­fer­ent con­texts.

In other words, the play is dated. ( Tel: 020 7359 4404)

Will Keen lights up as his city is threat­ened by Mus­lim arsonists in a con­tro­ver­sial up­dat­ing of Max Frisch’s play

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