With Nigel Lindsay and Josefina Gabrielle onboard, Farewell Mister Haffmann is brilliantly cast but also chillingly effective at Theatre Royal Bath
I’m nothing if not predictable – put Josefina Gabrielle on a stage, and I will come. Written by Jean-Philippe Daguerre and adapted here by Jeremy Sams into English, Farewell Mister Haffmann comes with the added bonus of Nigel Lindsay in the cast and in the relative intimacy of Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio, this develops into a remarkably intense theatrical experience.
That doesn’t always feel like the case at the beginning of Lindsay Posner’s production, a couple of directorial mis-steps and an uncertainty of tone leaving me wondering what I’d let myself in for. But as the rhythm of the play emerges, so too does its purpose, leaving you almost mesmerised by the quality of the acting as the true weightiness of the drama is revealed.
It is set in Nazi-occupied France, so the initial farcical tone might take you by surprise as Jewish jeweller Joseph Haffmann ends up in a reverse Indecent Proposal as he agrees to sign over his shop to his assistant Pierre and move into the basement to avoid detection, Pierre’s only stipulation being that Joseph sleeps with his desperate-to-be-pregnant wife Isabelle until she conceives. And then the Nazis come for dinner…
Daguerre is sharply alive to the ways in which fascism creeps through society with insidious quietness, probing into reasons why people might make morally reprehensible decisions whether immersed in a challenging political climate or not. The journey of the play speaks a little to that, showing unthinking radicalisation by a thousand cuts, until explosive confrontation leaves us with some uncompromising, difficult truths to face.
The increasingly charged atmosphere is perfect in this space and there isn’t a weak link across this excellent company. Lindsay excels as Joseph, reserved in the face of such indignities until he can hold back no more. Ciarán Owens shows how someone like Pierre can get ground down by the world seemingly against him, Lisa Dillon superb as his wife growing in fear at what he’s becoming. And Alexander Hanson and Josefina Gabrielle’s late arrival offers a shocking shot in the arm with their brutal frankness. Worth the trip.