Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Review Anything That Flies


Anything That Flies
by Judith Burnley

The Past Is Another Country
http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/

Anything That Flies is an ambitious little play on the refugee experience, setting its sights on huge topics within a domestic milieu which slips and slides into the fantastical.

German-born Otto Huberman is a curmudgeonly, whiskey-supping Jewish widower, living alone in a North West London flat, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and his grown up child's emigration to Israel.

His life is disrupted by the arrival of a new carer -  unexpectedly a matronly but also softly attractive blonde German hausfrau apparently sent by his daughter to look after him following a stroke.

The play, directed by Alice Hamilton, charts the ups and downs of an enforced relationship between the two and an attempt to come to terms with a past they are unable to reconcile either as separate individuals or in relation to each other.

Oscar both faces and evades his past, the unjust fate meted out to his kin who nevertheless always protected him and helped him board a Noah's Ark to safety.

Behind his bristling belligerance and, in many ways, justified snobbery about his achievements as a cultured inventor and innovator, he is wracked by his own failings as a human being which, in other more normal life circumstances, he might have allowed himself to push entirely aside. 

Lottie, a minor German aristocrat from an estate in the former Eastern Germany, throws herself into making his life more comfortable, while sometimes overlooking more basic, practical needs, also idolizing her childhood English governess who in reality deserted her ward in disturbing circumstances.

In our Brexit age some descendants of Jewish German speaking refugees are considering taking up citizenship of their ancestors' homeland for a variety of motives, but this play in its present form, tackling previous displacement, belonging and attempts at reparation,  feels like a missed opportunity.

TLT thought she could detect some slight hints of complexity and irony in the text. However this production has a tendency to flatten these and the result is the implication of probably unintended conclusions.

At the same time the script does it no favours failing to flag up more patently a cleverer, and very much more human, mix of successful entrepreneur, male chauvinist and guilty survivor.

Otto's repeating, for instance, of an old canard levelled against those who  stayed in Germany comes over as a fact rather than what could be an aggressive survival mechanism on his part in his new homeland.

He outwardly dismisses his family's powerlessness to leave, even before the Second World War's outbreak, not only within the National Socialist regime but in the context of an outside world, including Britain, which often closed its doors to Jewish refugees.

Emily Adamson and Neil Irish's set is a nicely understated but detailed Belsize Park flat.  Clive Merrison as the wily, lascivious, mercurial Otto and Issy Van Randwyck as the carer, Lottie, equally needy for completely different reasons, with her own infatuations and obsessions, both give vivid and vivacious performances.

However they are hampered by an unbalanced dramatic framework, reducing distressing complexity to simplistic stereotype and playing to conventional assumptions about heroes and villains in the Second World War.

There's potential in Judith Burnley's one act drama and the possibility of a distinctive voice emerging. She certainly has a take on refugee technical innovation and its relationship to continental Europe and the former Soviet Union which distinguishes her work from, for example, Stephen Poliakoff.

However, at the moment, her grasp of the entanglements and ramifications is not matched by a playwright's technical, structural skill and it's an amber light.  

No comments:

Post a comment