Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Address Unknown, theatre review

Published in The Scotsman


OF ALL the traumas associated with the Second World War, one of the hardest to come to terms with is how people of good character could have thrown their support behind Hitler. Their betrayal produced, on a very big scale, the kind of shock caused by a lover who chooses a new partner; to the rejected party, it is as if there has been an inexplicable personality change. In the case of Germany, it is so difficult to explain that, over 60 years later, we are still trying to process it.

Address Unknown does not provide a definitive answer, but it gives some indication of the psychology involved. It is taken from a story by Kressmann Taylor published in 1938, which she said was based on a genuine exchange of letters. In the form we have it here, it is about two old friends and business associates. One, Max, is a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco. The other, Martin, has just returned from the USA to his native Germany.

Related in epistolary form by Benny Young and James MacPherson, the story begins with an air of genial prosperity, the men confessing their moral scruples as one profits from wealthy art collectors and the other finds himself among Munich's rich elite. We're a couple of letters in before Hitler's name is even mentioned and, then, in disapproving terms.

But slowly Martin's language hardens, his expedient tolerance of the National Socialists turning into patriotic enthusiasm and, most chillingly, outright rejection of his old friend. Max's incomprehension and despair seems as intense as our own when we look back today, although his calculated revenge seems too much like poetic justice to be true.

Andy Arnold's production is straightforward and measured, making a thoughtful, if static, addition to his Mayfesto season of political drama.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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