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Posts Tagged ‘Adrian Schiller’

This time around, I couldn’t help feeling how Stoppardian this Terry Johnson play is – though maybe not as glib. Revived 20 years on, with Johnson directing, it seems as fresh as when I first saw it at The Royal Court.

It’s hard to describe without spoiling it. Sigmund Freud is in exile in London, dying of cancer,  just as the Second World War is about to break out. He’s visited by a girl who wants to revisit diagnoses of the past and pulls a few tricks out of the bag to help overcome his reluctance. Salvador Dali comes calling in homage and things take an obviously surreal turn. His doctor / friend Yahuda tries to keep him stable as events take their toll. Suffice to say it pulls a few surprises as it twists and turns and returns to where it started.

Though it’s a clever, well-written play, it does lose it’s way by stretching the first half too much. A judicious cut of 15 minutes or so would, in my view, make it a tighter and better play. Les Brotherston’s design is excellent, with a superb coup d’theatre in the second half. Anthony Sher was made to play Freud and he doesn’t disappoint. Adrain Schiller’s turn as Dali is a treat, and David Horovitch gives fine support as the doctor. I’m afraid I thought Lydia Wilson was undercast as the girl, leading to a degree of imbalance.

Great to see one of the best of underrated Terry Johnson’s plays again after so long.

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When I was trying to buy a beer at a rock concert in Albuquerque, they asked to see my wristband. I didn’t have one so I was shown where to get one and told I would need ID to do so, but the only reason they gave me for needing a wristband was ‘to buy a beer’ (I was twice the minimum age). When I asked the wristband people why I needed it they said ‘to get a beer’. I still don’t know why I needed to produce ID to get a wristband to get a beer, but this recollection popped into my head half-way through the first half of this play and helped me identify with the absurdity of Wilhelm Voigt’s situation . Fresh out of prison, he needs a passport to get a resident permit to get a home or a job.

Given the history and pedigree of the play, based on a true story, you can see why the NT wanted to stage it, Adrian Noble to direct it, Ron Hutchison to adapt it and Anthony Sher to play the lead role. A satire set in an early thirties Germany in transition from the Kaiser to Hitler? Yes please! They don’t quite pull it off, but I don’t think you’d be able to predict that from the page; there is however enough to enjoy to make it a worthwhile evening.

It’s the longer first half that’s the problem. It starts very well, but then takes too long to get to Voigt’s big con – impersonating an army Captain and getting all the way from the street via the Town Hall to the Interior Ministry, embarrassing the establishment of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany along the way. We don’t actually get there until the second half where it turns into absurdist farce and finds its form. The first half’s satire on bureaucracy and authority is just too long. They’ve clearly already shortened it; another 15 minutes would do it.

Anthony Ward’s Vorticist city backdrop is great, they use the Olivier’s drum revolve to great effect and the use of music adds much. Anthony Sher is excellent as Voigt, contemptuous of the absurdity around him and visibly relishing the process of showing it up. The role does dominate, but there’s excellent support from a large cast of 26, particularly Anthony O’Donnell as The Mayor of Kopenick & a toilet cleaner (!), Adrian Schiller as a revolutionary tailor, Nick Samson as a banker and Minister of the Interior and David Killick as a pair of shopkeepers.

Playwright Carl Zuckmayer is better known as the writer of The Blue Angel, though this play did get three film adaptations. Voigt was apparently a bit of a folk hero and after a couple of years back in prison was touring Europe to capitalise on this fame. It’s fascinating stuff, even if it doesn’t quite make great theatre in this adaptation / production.

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