The "lucky ones" of the title in Charlotte Eilenberg's beguiling first play are children who escaped from Nazi Germany through Kindertransport. We first meet the two German-accented couples in Dick Bird's vibrantly bright garden in 1968. Even then, they are still trying to come to terms with their heritage and their lives in England.
Bruno (David Horovitch) and Anna (Margot Leicester) have assimilated but still feel excessive gratitude to the country that has taken them in. By contrast, Leo (Anton Lesser) and Ottilie (Michelle Newell) consider themselves to be outsiders and Leo in particular wishes to fight an invisible enemy that is largely within himself. Into the happily bickering group comes an Aryan German, Lisa (Kelly Hunter). She has offered to purchase a shack that the couples jointly own. This cottage is a symbol that mirrors the Jews' lives in England.
After some hilariously prickly debate between Horovitch's grumpy Bruno and Lesser's indignant Leo regarding business ethics, a deal is struck. Leo can't let go though and, as an unusual condition of sale, insists that Lisa make a public apology for the behaviour of her countrymen 25 years earlier.
The second act, in which we fast-forward to today, centres on Leo's funeral, at which his son Daniel (a bitter and blameful James Clyde) gives the eulogy. Through their grief and grumbling, it becomes apparent that these children of the refugees are outsiders, victims and survivors in their own rights. And when an aged Lisa - who did indeed purchase the cottage - returns to offer symbolic reparations, the scene is set for another searching re-evaluation of the families' collective pasts.
If the final act - which spins this out rather longer than necessary, so intent in colouring in the blanks - is somewhat redundant, it does nevertheless demonstrate that, in both love and war, eventually enemies can lie down together.
Under Matthew Lloyd's sure direction, each member of the cast gives a strong performance, in particular all five members of the older generation, who have rather more to grapple with. Eilenberg is supremely lucky to have such an accomplished cast for her debut - but they too are lucky ones, as she's delivered them a neat little family drama, beautifully and painstakingly constructed.
What we come away with more than anything is a search for belonging and a pervasive feeling of guilt visited on successive generations of Germans - both Jews and Gentiles. Highly convincing and moving.
- Philip Fisher