Before the 10 minutes of deeply dodgy prejudices in Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children (reviewed on page 3), the white-box set in the Court’s main auditorium is host to Marius von Mayenburg’s rather brilliant hour-long offering which takes a fresh look at how young, modern Germans deal with the legacy of the Nazis. What I love about this play — which heralds the theatre’s German season — is its articulate anger, although it is not immediately obvious in which direction it is aimed.
Von Mayenburg’s story — which leaps between pre- and post-war periods — is contained within the walls of a Dresden house which was once owned by a Jewish family before they were driven out by the Nazis.
In Ramin Gray’s absorbing production, the house’s various occupants are present throughout, like silent ghosts, only becoming active when the story alights on their period. But the play starts in 1993 with the reoccupation of the home by the family who replaced the Jews but who left during the Communist era. Theirs is a noble story —– told by grandmother Witha to granddaughter Hannah — about the brave actions of the family patriarch who helped Jews escape. Then Von Mayenburg’s unlinear storytelling reveals the truths that lie beneath Witha’s family fiction. And revealed also is Von Mayenburg’s target, the made-up heroism invented by Germans to hide their past from their grandchildren.
Justine Mitchell is all elegant indignation as the Jewish wife Mieze, and as the young Witha, a Nazi party member, Linda Bassett is disturbingly human.
And centre stage is the stone, said by Witha to have been hurled at her brave husband for helping Jews, and shown up as an heirloom of a lie. A powerful, honourable play.