East of Berlin (Southwark Playhouse)
A sensitive exploration of the legacy of the Holocaust
Hannah Moscovitch's East of Berlin has an intriguing premise - what happens when the son of an SS doctor discovers the truth about his father's war activities?
Rudi had grown up in Paraguay, unaware of the real reason behind his family's emigration from Germany to South America after the war. When the truth is revealed by a friend, he travels to Berlin to search the Auschwitz archives and find out who he truly is. While there, he meets Sarah, whose mother survived the death camps. As their relationship grows, they're brought face to face with the truth of Rudi's identity.
This is a story of redemption for both Rudi (Jordan McCurrach) and Sarah (Jo Herbert). McCurrach commands the stage, pacing and prowling as he realises that the life he's been leading has been based on a horrible lie. Herbert's Sarah is twitchy and occasionally annoyingly squealy. Tom Lincoln plays Hermann, Rudi's friend who casually reveals the life-changing truth to him.
The storyline relies on the rather contrived meeting of Rudi and Sarah; while coincidences do happen, this pushes the contrivance to its limit. Ignore that though, because East of Berlin has an intriguing message about the continuing damage caused by the war to the survivors on both sides and their descendents.
Holly Pigott's set, consisting of four bookshelves on casters, while comprehensively stacked with authentic-looking archival material, requires the actors to move the pieces to create the different scenes, such as the Berlin archive, or Rudi's house, or a cupboard from where Rudi pulls his father's old Wehrmacht jacket. At times it makes for an unnecessary distraction, as do the number of (presumably herbal) cigarettes Rudi smokes during the course of the piece, which in the humidity of a hot summer night uncomfortably pollute the atmosphere of the Southwark Playhouse's Little Theatre.
While the lives of Nazi war criminals have been extensively investigated, the effects on their children of the sins of the past have not received the same focus. Moscovitch and her director Blythe Stewart are to be congratulated for providing a thoughtful exploration of a sensitive aspect of recent history.
East of Berlin continues at Southwark Playhouse until 12 July