Review: Memory

By John Nathan, October 10, 2008

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 question 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)

Last updated: 2:36pm, October 10 2008