John Crowley's revival of Christopher Hampton's play about German artists living in exile in Los Angeles during World War Two is a witty and intelligent play.
The play was previously at the National Theatre in 1983 with Michael Gambon playing the narrator СVon HorvathТ and it was also made into a film in 1992. It is welcome to see the show on the London stage again, this time with Ben Daniels as СVon HorvathТ.
Odon Von Horvath, a German Hungarian writer died in 1938 in Paris when a branch of a tree fell on his head! Apparently one of the last lines he wrote was УA poet emigrates to AmericaЕФ Christopher Hampton decides to change this in his play causing instead the tree to fall on someone else, allowing Hampton to use von Horvath as narrator to tell tales of the German exiles in Los Angeles during World War Two.
For this group of German СspeakingТ writers, life in America seems a dismal affair. In Germany they had some fame or at least notoriety and they were writing about СrealТ issues. Each decision they made back then, where to live, who to live with and what to write about, were packed with political and moral significance. However, here in Hollywood they scrape a living by writing scenarios for movies, plots which most of the time will never be read. All they have to look forward too is Сwriting badlyТ scripts for such classics as СThe two headed womanТ and СBedtime with BonzoТ.
Odon Von Horvath seems to fit in to his new life in America better then the others, but as he says he has a fascination with the vulgar and the grotesque. Brecht hates the place and canТt wait to return to Europe. Life in America is too bland for Brecht, there is nothing to fight against, nothing to oppose. He sums up his feeling for America when he says capitalism is like a promising red shiny apple, but biting into it is like biting into a tasteless sponge. There is a feeling of desperation caused by boredom that runs throughout the play, of talented imaginative people being forced by circumstances to be spectators, as life happens elsewhere!
In this touching dreamlike drama we are treated to some sharp writing and beautiful acting. Ben Daniels, who recently won an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor for УAll My Sons at the National, produces yet another convincing and caring performance as he narrates the problems faced by a community struggling to deal with the smoking pyres they have fled as well as the problem of being German in America during the war. There is also a terrific performance from Phil Davis as the Сbad attitudeТ Bertolt Brecht, which brings some great humour to the play. There is a poignant performance by Richard Johnson as Heinrich Mann, who struggles to adapt to his current predicament as well as trying to cope with his alcoholic wife СNellieТ played solidly by Lizzy McInnerny.
The play has received good notices from the popular press..THE SUNDAY TIMES says, УThe Acting is all impeccable, and Johnson turns in one of the finest, subtlest and most moving performances..Ф CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, УIt's a real pleasure to welcome John Crowley's fine revival of this richly entertaining and touching play.Ф BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, УChristopher HamptonТs finest play.Ф And goes on to say, УSharp revival John Crowley is offering at the Donmar Warehouse.Ф SUSANNAH CLAPP for THE OBSERVER says, УThis is a shrewd and subtle script.Ф RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT describes the play as a Уsensitive productionФ.
Lasting 2 hours 30 minutes, this is a beautiful and interesting play that many will enjoy.
**(Production photos by Ivan Kyncl)