Review: East of Berlin, Southwark Playhouse

“You’ll like this part…”

In a year full of military commemorations, the Southwark Playhouse once again turns its focus onto the aftermath of war but where the extraordinary Johnny Got His Gun asked us to consider ‘what next’ for the soldiers once they stopped fighting, Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin looks at the impact on the next generation, the children of those directly involved in the Second World War.

Specifically, Rudi is the son of an SS doctor at Auschwitz, a Nazi war criminal now in hiding in Paraguay with his family, who have kept Rudi in the dark about his father’s past which he only discovers as a teenager. Upon this revelation, he flees back to Berlin and builds himself an anonymous new life but the weight of the past and the huge questions of guilt and responsibility hang heavily over him, especially once he finds love with an American Jewish woman. 

Whilst much of the play is delivered by Jordan McCurrach’s excellently Rudi as he narrates his way through the complex and confusing emotional world he finds himself in, Moscovitch’s real coup is in thrusting his narration through the fourth wall so that he is constantly asking questions, acknowledging horrors and seeking reassurances of us the audience. Our own reactions are thus interrogated as he tries to second-guess where our sympathies will lie, predicting how we might have responded if we were in his shoes, or even those of his father.

Blythe Stewart’s production keeps a remarkable fluidity to the piece, Holly Pigott’s ingeniously flexible design allowing for this necessary sense of pace, the relentlessness essential to the unravelling of Rudi’s state of mind as the new world he has constructed for himself is dismantled by a figure from the past – Tom Lincoln’s Hermann suitably sinuous in his truth-spilling and Jo Herbert is just superb as the studious Sarah, liberated entirely by all-consuming passion for a man and then devastated once the truth emerges. A genuinely thought-provoking take on the Holocaust that deserves to be seen.

Running time: 85 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 12th July

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