MEMORY Pleasance Theatre, London N7
THERE WILL be those who balk at Jonathan Lichtenstein’s memory play. It shifts from Berlin in 1990, just after the city’s dividing wall had been taken down, to Bethlehem, 2006, just as Israel’s security wall is being put up.
It also switches to and from the Nazi theft of a Jewish business in 1930s Berlin to Israel’s destruction of a Palestinian’s home to make way for the wall.
Memory eloquently implies a stupid question, one that appears to be directed at Jews (often by Jews) more than any other group. And the ques- tion is, how can those who suffer bear to cause suffering in others? Which on the face of it seems fair, except that it is built on the notion that the more you suffer, the better you behave, which as brilliant theories go is right up there with blondes having more fun.
Still, Lichtenstein’s writing and Terry Hands’s impressively acted Clwyd Theatr Cymru production packs a powerful punch, not least because of the elegant vehicle that allows the action to switch period and place.
Memory is anchored in a room where a group of actors are rehearsing a play. And it is this play-within-a-play that begins in an East Berlin apartment where 78-year-old Eva (Vivien Parry) is visited by her grandson Peter (Oliver Ryan) who implores her to recall her experience under the Nazis.
Eva’s painful past partially reflects Lichtenstein’s own family history. His grandfather’s shop was attacked during Kristallnacht before his father was sent to Britain as a Kindertransport evacuee.
The counterpoint to Eva’s story is a tale that sees the family home of an elderly Palestinian (Ifan Huw Dafydd) destroyed in order to make way for Israel’s security wall.
Both stories are worth telling, even if each is distorted in the conflating. Memory’s lessons may be flawed, but those who walked out of the theatre during its New York run would have left thinking that the author is judging Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel to be equivalent to Jewish suffering under the Nazis. If they had stayed for the deeply affecting final scene, they would have realised that this is untrue. (Tel: 020 7609 1800)
THENORMANCONQUESTS Old Vic, London SE1
A COUNTRY house populated by three sisters and a lovelorn family so cursed with disappointment and disillusionment as to drive its members to despair.
Well, OK, two sisters and one sisterin-law. So not quite Chekhov, but director Matthew Warchus’s wonderfully performed revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 35-year-old comic trilogy, with a curly-mopped, shaggy-bearded Stephen Mangan as the charming monster Norman who hits on all three women over the course of one weekend, highlights as much tragedy as comedy. Despite the pleasing ’70s period detail there is no whiff of datedness. This is partly down to Rob Howell’s inspired in-theround design that not only breaths new life into Ayckbourn but into the old fashioned Old Vic, which has been turned from a cavernous and remote venue into a wonderfully intimate space. I wish all the Old Vic’s plays could be seen like this.
Like all classic trilogies each of Ayckbourn’s plays works well on its own, but like a treat when seen together.
One play in the trilogy is set in the dining room, another in the living room, and the third in the garden. Each depicts the same events over 48-hours during which Jessica Hynes’s Annie is so desperate for some hot loving, if she can’t get it from the Ben Mile’s infuriatingly diffident Tom, she will get it from her brother-in-law Norman.
You can take your pick from six flawless performances. But other than Mangan, Hynes and Paul Ritter’s anorak Reg are outstanding, though Amanda Root as Reg’s up-tight wife Sarah is pretty wonderful too.
And artistic director Kevin Spacey, who, with the help of Warchus, easily gave London this year’s most thrilling show with Speed the Plow, is achieving the seemingly impossible — returning the Old Vic to its heyday. (Tel: 0870 060 6628)
WASTE Almeida Theatre, London N1
A NEW generation is discovering that Harley Granville Barker was one of the country’s most astoundingly astute political dramatists — his work has as much to say about today’s politics as those at the beginning of the last century.
Originally banned by the Lord Chamberlain in 1907, Waste has at its core a scandal involving high-lying hero MP Henry Trebell (Will Keen) laid low by an affair and an unwanted pregnancy.
Director Samuel West could have done his over-long revival more good than harm by cutting the first act. But the political argument about the church’s disestablishment is thrilling, and Phoebe Nicholls as Trebell’s loving but sexually uninterested wife outshines even Keen’s excellent performance. (Tel: 020 7359 4404)
Ifan Huw Dafydd and Guy Lewis in a controversial drama which ultimately doesn’t compare Israelis to the Nazis