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A Bright Room Called Day (Southwark Playhouse)

The production of Tony Kushner's play doesn't provoke the questions that it might

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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Ethan Holmes
© Jack Sain

Spanning 1932 and 1933, Tony Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day tells the story of a group of friends caught up in the events during the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party.

This is a play about politics rather than history and much of the tension in the piece hinges on the differing levels of political conviction of the key players. Two of the best performances come from Charlie Archer as the worldly-wise Baz, played with just the right balance of humour, charm and honesty and Laura Hanna's sweet and well-meaning but apolitical, self-indulgent, opium-addicted actress Paulinka.

The lynchpin of the piece is Agnes (Alana Ramsey), in whose apartment the action takes place, certainly one of the most difficult roles to play. She is moderate, middle class and sensible. She joins the Party but doesn't have the political vigour of working-class Gotchling (Holly Morgan) or the anger of her displaced Hungarian boyfriend Husz (Ethan Holmes) and certainly not the strength of will to make any big choices. Ramsey tries hard in this challenging role but played against characters with such clear motivations it's difficult to have any real sympathy for her.

Seb Harcombe's direction is serviceable, the blocking neat and functional, but the tone of the play never seems quite right - the opium-induced hallucination is jarring played neither straight nor for comedy while Elizabeth Andrewatha's Die Alte is bizarrely overwrought.

Charlotte Jacobs as Zillah, the modern-day American whose scenes are interspersed with the main action, maintains a level of intensity throughout that at first seems out-of-keeping with the piece, but by the end is the most stable thing about it.

This is a difficult play to get right and in this case, the cast are working hard, but that isn't quite enough. I didn't leave asking the questions about apathy, politics and history that I'm sure Kushner intended and for a play about politics, that's a shame.