Thursday 29 February 2024

Nachtland - Review

Young Vic, London


Written by Marius von Mayenburg
Translated by Maja Zade
Directed by Patrick Marber

Jane Horrocks

Nachtland is an intriguing, brilliantly delivered examination of post-Holocaust German identity. 

Philipp and Nicola (John Heffernan and Dorothea Myer-Bennett) are brother and sister meeting in the house of their recently deceased father to clear his belongings.

Opening with typical sibling squabbles over who had cared the most for their father in his decline, their dynamic soon shifts on the discovery of a framed picture in the attic that on close inspection, is found to be one of Adolf Hitler’s early watercolour paintings. The drama quickly evolves into an exploration of base greed, as the siblings engage Evamaria (Jane Horrocks) to verify the artwork’s provenance with a view to realising its value, contrasted with the emotional agonies of Philippa’s Jewish wife Judith (Jenna Augen), who is appalled at the siblings’ crass materiality in their exploiting an artefact of Hitler. 

Marius von Maayerburg’s genius (expertly translated by Maja Zade) lies in his crafting of brilliantly worded arguments that never once fall into maudling or simplistic explanations, but rather outline the ongoing traumatic legacy of the Holocaust and its impact upon modern Jewish identity - and counterpointing this impact with the blunt disinterested disconnection of Judith’s in-laws.

The second half of this ninety minute one-act work introduces Angus Wright as Kahl, a would-be purchaser of the painting and Nazi sympathiser, who is found to be a vile misogynist. Throw in a small turn from Gunnar Cauthery as Nicola’s husband Fabian who contracts tetanus in picking out nails from the picture’s antique frame and the evening’s sextet is complete.

The writing is brilliant, the cast is flawless and as the evening evolves, occasional pockets of humour lead to a final act that is both harrowing and shocking. Anna Fleischle’s deceptively mind-bending set is the perfect complement to Patrick Marber’s assured and deft direction.

With occasional musical interludes ranging from Bowie to Beethoven and Mahler, Nachtland is outstanding theatre.

Runs until 20th April
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

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