David Pinner’s 1973 play ‘The Potsdam Quartet’ was last performed in the UK at The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith 33 years ago and is now back in London playing at Jermyn Street Theatre for a short run this month.
Inspired by a true story, ‘The Potsdam Quartet’ recites a story of a String Quartet, who have spent the war and the past 25 years performing around Europe. Their new gig is to play for ‘The Big Four’: Stalin, Truman, Churchill and Atlee at the Potsdam conference in the summer of 1945, in occupied Germany.
FIRST VIOLIN: “When you are dividing up the world between you, you need a little background music. A pity it has to be Haydn”
While the world leaders are battling it out in the adjoining room, the four uniformed musicians are passing time in another; a brown walled, minimally furnished room guarded by a virtually silent non-English speaking armed Russian Soldier (Ged Petkunas) – whose presence in the play is of significant symbolism.
The first act is a slow burner. We watch the four musicians and their inane, puerile bickering and goading of each other, but as the play goes on we discover more about the entangled convoluted backstories of each of them. Ronnie (played brilliantly camp by Philip Bird) is in a turbulent gay relationship with Johnny (Stefan Bednarczyk) which Johnny is threatening to announce publicly. Although this relationship is accepted within the quartet, you have to bear in mind the period of this play, a public announcement such as this would certainly disband the Quartet and destroy their futures.
‘If you tell the University officially, Healey, they’ll be forced to sack us!‘ (Aaron)
Douglas (Daniel Crowder) reveals he has Parkinson’s disease. The effects of this condition could ensure difficulty in playing his instrument to the same standard.
And finally Aaron (Michael Matus) the leader of the Quartet, who has given up his family to make this Quartet work. Hearing of his son’s progress at home makes him even more determined to keep the Quartet together, it has to be worth the pain of missing his family. He passionately describes in the second act how the four of them continuing to pursue working together over time can create beautiful harmony, as one. This becomes the focused metaphor of the whole play.
It is apparent that what is going on in the next room, will ultimately not only decide the future of Europe, but also the fate of the quartet.
The Russian soldier (that Ronnie has nicknamed ‘Polly’) is an intriguing character. Often in theatre less is more when it comes to what you see and hear. His trigger-happy approach to his job one minute to sharing a cigarette and bread with Ronnie the next was an inspired piece of writing by Pinner and tenderly played out by the actors. It reminded me of real war truce stories both old and new such as the infamous ‘Christmas Truce football match’ in WW1.
The Potsdam Quartet is an energetically performed piece. The actors put their all into their performances which in my opinion disguised some of the flaws in Pinner’s play itself, which is somewhat predictable at times. Unfortunately there are times when I wanted just to have a quick peak at what was going on in ‘the other room’ to see what Churchill and Stalin were up too.
That said, the director Anthony Biggs has delivered an intelligent and well executed piece of theatre sure to provide a good evening out to its audiences. The Jermyn Street theatre is a beautifully intimate venue which compliments the intensity of play perfectly.
Review by Alexandra Sadler
THE POTSDAM QUARTET by David Pinner
Directed by Anthony Biggs
Design by Cherry Truluck
Sound Design by Tom Cassidy
CAST: Stefan Bednarczyk, Philip Bird, Daniel Crowder, Michael Matus, Ged Petkunas
Showing until 23rd November 2013
Monday to Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday matinees 3.30pm
Sunday 3rd November 2013