Review: Nachtland, Young Vic

A strong cast battle valiantly with the striking and challenging Nachtland at the Young Vic

“Can we not talk about art without bringing in the Holocaust?”

Even as one of the most produced contemporary playwrights in Germany, Marius von Mayenburg’s writing isn’t seen too often on these shores. Nachtland arrives at the Young Vic with a translation from Maja Zade and directed by Patrick Marber and although it deals with such seriously punchy issues, it’s hard not to feel that something might have been lost in translation, whether literally or figuratively.

Fractious siblings Nicola and Philipp are engaged in the arduous task of sorting out their dead dad’s house and their relationship is tested even further when they find a painting in the attic that is signed ‘A Hitler’. A creepy art dealer confirms its provenance and finds a creepy buyer but the size of her valuation depends on the painting’s backstory and so the family set about the Pandora’s box that is establishing their Nazi connections with little regards for the ethical considerations it provokes.

The play is significantly weirder than that in reality though, Marber’s bold directorial choices amping up the experimental feel. There’s moments of direct address, stunning light design from Richard Howell that portals out the space, 180 degree shifts of tone and a mordant sense of humour, even as we’re simultaneously appalled. There’s also David Bowie in the score which is becoming such a lazy shorthand for a certain brand of director (qv van Hove, Icke, Ostermaier)….

It’s very well acted – John Heffernan and Dorothea Myer-Bennett impress as the warring siblings, Jenna Augen as Philipp’s Jewish wife Judith is a striking dissonant voice, Gunnar Cauthery as Nicola’s husband Fabian is suitably odd as tetanus seemingly allows the spirit of Hitler to take him over. Jane Horrocks and Angus Wright add to the sense of quality but there’s something overly talky about the discussions of profiteering from evil and separating art from the artist that doesn’t quite ignite dramatically.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *