There was promise of this being a holocaust play with a difference. The actors assemble to rehearse their roles in a white circle. The director at the piano plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The scene clicks into Berlin after the Wall has come down where 78 year-old Eva entertains her grandson. He wants to know what happened fifty-odd years ago.
Jonathan Lichtenstein’s Memory also sets up a parallel story of a soldier in Bethlehem constructing the new West Bank wall, or barrier, and displacing an old Palestinian. This strand is soon forgotten, the metaphor unexplored in the drama, as we concentrate on Eva’s story in trading off her affections between the Jewish shoe-shop entrepreneur she marries and the Gentile Nazi who spoils everything after Kristtalnacht.
The play is presented in translucent silhouette and revved-up urgency by director Terry Hands and his Clwyd Theatr Cymru company, which arrives in the Pleasance after a date in New York and a Welsh and West Country tour. But what happened to the set-up, the rehearsal room, or are we merely to suppose that events have overtaken the means of production?
Backbone of a sort is provided by Vivien Parry as Eva in a wonderfully alert and vibrant performance of the younger pleasure-loving Berliner and her embittered, rasping older self. This is a woman who saves her children in an act of tactical whoredom only to see them callously destroyed anyway. Her grandson is trying to piece together the story by the light of a menorah as the gloom descends.
Hands, as he did so often in his glory years at the RSC, has designed his own lighting, and the simple setting is by Martyn Bainbridge, the shift of locations indicated by a typewriter rat-a-tat on a black pillar, a white picnic cloth almost inflamed by its own dazzle, dark clouds seeping insidiously over Berlin. Tom Shepherd as the director picks out the Bach on a pleasantly tinny keyboard and resigns authority more easily than I imagine Hands himself would in a rehearsal room.
It is good, though, to see evidence of the fine company Hands has built over the past decade, with Simon Nehan and Daniel Hawksford outstanding as Eva’s rival lovers and best friends, and Oliver Ryan, Guy Lewis and Ifan Huw Dafydd all chipping in smartly; they’re all more interesting as “themselves”, though, than the characters they assume.
- Michael Coveney