A letter always reaches its destination even if its intended recipient is long since gone.
Who bears responsibility for its contents is the question that kicks off the narrative for Maya Arad Yasur’s play, Amsterdam.
The play begins in 2019 with a young Jewish violinist living in Amsterdam and thrilled with her canal-side flat in a posh part of the city until someone slips an unpaid gas bill for 1,700 euros under her door.
The bill’s issue date is 1944, a year when Amsterdam is still suffering under Nazi occupation and decades before the Jewish violinist is born, but the authorities insist she is responsible for the outstanding debt. We interpret the unpaid bill as a metaphor for the gas chambers and the plight of Jews in Amsterdam during the Second World War.
Although I would have loved to see her appear as a character, we never meet the young violinist, rather her narrative is relayed to us by four actors who provide us with a cacophony of events and characters who lived in Amsterdam during the darkest period in recent history – the Holocaust.
When the play begins we are confronted with a bare stage that consists only of an egg-yolk-yellow painted floor. It is a disturbing sea of colour, reminiscent of the Star of David armband Jews were forced to wear throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.
The actors use an energised jump-cut technique that carries the narrative from 2019 to 1944 and back again. Within the confines of a rectangular-shaped stage, they bark out rapid phrases, stalk and circle their fellow players, and build on each other’s narratives like a game of word play. Under the deft guidance of director Matthew Xia this occurs with seamless fluidity, but it does require rapt attention.
During the Jewish violinist’s plight, we learn the Nazis occupied the flat during the period of excessive gas use in 1944, but left without paying the bill. Herein may lie the philosophy of the play, that there is no endpoint to war crimes, and that future generations will have to pay, unless we heed the injustices that preceded us.
Accompanying the energised performances of Amsterdam’s superb cast, Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz and Hara Yannas, is the play’s use of narratives generously peppered with foreign phrases that require translation.
At first this is enjoyed as an amusing theatrical technique – an actor bellows something in German, then a bell sounds, then the actor rushes to a microphone and explains the phrase in English. But after the twentieth time of shouts in a foreign tongue and quick dashes to a microphone it soon becomes tedious, like a joke you’re made to suffer when you cannot leave the room.
However, this does not diminish Amsterdam’s power as an ambitious, innovative piece of theatre, replete with rich narratives and dynamic performances.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Everyone knows, all of them … that when all’s said and done, she is no more than a fig leaf hiding the thing everyone else would be much happier never having to look at.
An Israeli violinist. Living in her trendy canal-side Amsterdam apartment. Nine months pregnant.
One day a mysterious unpaid gas bill from 1944 arrives.
Slid her an envelope right under the door and then just walked away.
It awakens unsettling feelings of collective identity, foreignness and alienation. Stories of a devastating past are compellingly reconstructed to try and make sense of the present.
The UK premiere of a strikingly original, audacious thriller.
An Orange Tree Theatre, Actors Touring Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth production
Matthew Xia directs Dan Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz and Hara Yannas will appear in this strikingly audacious thriller, which awakens unsettling feelings of collective identity, foreignness and alienation by Israeli playwright Maya Arad Yasur. The play won the Jury Prize at Stueckemarkt 2018, held as part of Berliner Festpiele’s Theater Treffen. Matthew Xia (Blood Knot) returns to the OT to direct, in his first production as Artistic Director of ATC, in a co-production between them, the OT and Theatre Royal Plymouth.
Direction Matthew Xia
Design Naomi Kuyck-Cohen
Movement Jennifer Jackson
Lighting Ciarán Cunningham
Sound Max Pappenheim
Casting Consultant Sophie Parrott CDG
by Maya Arad Yasur
Translated by Eran Edry
6 September 2019 — 12 October 2019