The Royal Courtís season of new plays about Germany starts with The Stone by Marius von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zade and directed by Ramin Gray. Itís stark, itís short (one hourís playing time), itís elliptical and itís virtually impossible to understand until you get home and read the programme text.
The actors arrive at the stage through the pass door to the auditorium, entering the German artist Johannes Schutzís bare box set like patients in a waiting room. The sky blue box has a white ceiling, two tables and a few chairs. Linda Bassett as old Witha cowers under one of the tables.
This is the house she and her husband Wolfgang (Jonathan Cullen) bought from their Jewish friends in 1935 and now, in 1993, she is returning. The play develops as a sort of memorial tribunal of what happened to this East German family before, during and after the War; Witha is with her daughter Heidrun (Helen Schlesinger) and grand-daughter Hannah (Loo Brealey).
Wolfgang lolls along the back wall. He helped his boss at the veterinary instituteĖ whose house this was Ė escape to Amsterdam and on to New York, where his wife is now an art dealer who made Max Beckmann famous. Thatís the story, anyway.
That wife, Mieze (Justine Mitchell), tells Witha she put spikes on the walls to keep out the SS, but later Witha will claim she put them there. Von Mayenburg, who has had two previous plays produced in Sloane Square Ė Fireface and, last year, The Ugly One, about facial transformation Ė is dealing in good old German guilt in the last century, secret allegiances, the ambiguity of East Germanyís relationship with the invading (or liberating) Russian army. Wolfgang was either shot by the Russians or was a high-ranking Nazi officer who committed suicide.
The stone is the one allegedly thrown at Wolfgang for saving the Jews, but itís buried in the garden and is a matter of dispute between Heidrun and the sullen visitor in 1993, Stefanie (Amanda Drew), who has come to bother them and claim her own birthright. The dialogue skids by the bombing in 1945, a divided Germany when three families occupied the house in 1978 and a savage farewell by Mieze who chops up the piano (one of the tables) with an axe. Linda Bassett is marvellous, the rest of a very skimpy and impenetrable evening what you make of it, eventually.
- Michael Coveney