Friday, 16 October 2009

Our Class Review

Our Class by Tadeusz Słobodzianek
National Theatre, SE1
http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/

Double History

Another National Theatre trip - this time to see a Polish play having its premiere run at the Cottesloe, yet to appear in Poland. The story revolves around Polish Jewish and Catholic classmates together before the Second World War only to be ripped apart in every direction as Poland is overrun first by Soviet troops, then by National Socialists and then as contested truths begin to emerge post war. In TLT's opinion, there's a lot that's very fine in this drama (mainly the second act) but also much that is weak (mainly the self-conscious first act). The first half introduces an unnamed town's Jewish and Catholic children starting 1920s infant class and takes us up to the wartime massacre of the Jewish population by fellow townsmen - and classmates. It felt like a lot of telling. The historical timeline is presented but with no sense of subtext and no link to a newly independent and economically struggling infant democracy emerging from colonial rule.  At least one myth, of how surnames were changed on immigration, seemed to be accepted as an unimpeachable truth and there was a certain amount of stereotyping (even down to wedding day Fiddler On The Roof choreography). One line  put into the mouth of a woman jarred on TLT as if gender roles had been reversed for impact rather than truth. The atrocities,  though undeniably needing to be brutal and powerfully portrayed,  sometimes crossed the line for TLT into sensationalism. The second half  deals with the aftermath of the war up to modern times and, for TLT, was far the stronger,  containing a powerful subtext not only reflecting a certain situation within Poland but also, just as intractably, the world outside. Integrating seamlessly and poignantly political and emotional understanding, it felt much more fluid with fully rounded personalities, a sense of place, and a feel for gender divides  conjured up on the bare stage. Excellent acting throughout. If only the first act had shown more of the insight of the wholly absorbing second act it would have been a green light. As it is, an amber light award from TLT.

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