Earlier this year the Donmar Warehouse staged a season of five new American plays, but though one starred Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof), another featured all-male nudity (Take Me Out) and two of them transferred to longer runs elsewhere (Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train and Lobby Hero), none compare in terms of theatrical discovery and excitement to More Lies About Jerzy, first seen off-Broadway last year and now receiving its British premiere with no fanfare at all at Hampstead's New End Theatre.
I don't want to ruin that sense of discovery for you by blowing this genuinely stimulating and completely compelling play's trumpet too loudly, but how else do I get your attention?
Playwright Davey Holmes isn't one for big effects or loud gestures, either, though his play gets insinuatingly right under your skin for being about a man who was prone to them. It's based on the life of the late Jerzy Kosinski, the Polish writer of The Painted Bird (an autobiographical tale of a ten-year-old Jewish boy separated from his parents in Holocaust Poland) and Being There (best known for the film made of it and starring Peter Sellers).
In 1982, a Village Voice investigation revealed, however, that not only were most of the 'autobiographical' events in the first book fabricated, but also that Kosinski relied on ghost writers to produce and polish his prose.
While based on this story, the author writes in a programme note, "Given Jerzy Kosinski's tendency to write his own past, it seems fair that the play inspired by Jerzy is in turn a work of fiction". So, though it uses the premise of an investigative exposure of a literary 'lie', the play unfolds as a literary thriller that addresses much wider issues of creative responsibility and how writers draw not only on their own lives but the lives of others around them and re-draw them to neatly make their art.
Holmes has duly done exactly the same thing - but why gripe when one is so gripped and fascinated by his handling of the material? And the same question, of course, applies to Kosinski (here renamed Lesnewski, and superbly played by George Layton) in his Holocaust memoir: is it less 'true' for being untrue (or at any rate, not entirely true to himself)?
Guy Retallack's production captures the shifting moods of uncertainty that surround this story with unerring tension, and an excellent cast bring it to always convincing life. The sense of period (1972) is acutely realised in the costumes (by designer Nicolai Hart Hansen), and even the Polish accents seem convincing when required. All credit to new company Framework Productions Ltd for finding such a good piece, and then hiring the right people to execute it so astutely.
- Mark Shenton