Review: The Stationmaster, Tristan Bates Theatre

“The train is coming…”

The third year of the From Page To Stage season of new musical theatre is now well underway at the Tristan Bates Theatre and the centrepiece of this year’s festival is a production of The Stationmaster with book by Susannah Pearse and music and lyrics by Tim Connor. The musical is an adaptation of Ödön von Horváth’s Judgment Day (last seen in London at the Almeida in 2009) but moves the action to a small town in the Lake District in 1958.

Life in Kirby is all homemade jam, cake competitions and friendly pints down the local and railway stationmaster Thomas Price is at the heart of the tight-knit community. But behind closed doors and the net curtains lies a certain disenchantment, his marriage to Catherine is under strain and a chance encounter with the equally disaffected Anna sends their lives hurtling down the wrong tracks, a disaster further compounded by the tragedy of their ensuing actions. Continue reading “Review: The Stationmaster, Tristan Bates Theatre”

Review: Don Juan Comes Back From The War, Finborough Theatre

“I feel I’ve done something unforgivable. But I don’t know what it is.”

Playwright Ödön von Horváth had the kind of life that one couldn’t make up. A child of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, he settled in Germany in the 1930s and though a fierce critic of the Third Reich, remained there to document the rise of Nazism. After years of violent repression, he finally made it to Paris before the outbreak of war but was killed by a falling branch on the Champs-Élysées as he was on his way to the cinema. Consequently, many of his works were never performed in his lifetime such as Don Juan Comes Back From The War – now presented at the Finborough in a new version by Duncan Macmillan.

Here the famed lothario has been transplanted to a defeated Berlin at the end of the Great War, thoroughly worn out by the war mentally and physically, he returns from the battlefield to resume his life of decadent debauchery. But as he works his way through the hordes of grasping women desperate for a piece of this paragon of masculinity as his reputation would have you believe, his spiritual malaise grows as it becomes apparent that things are not as they were before and though he has tried his best to ignore them, his actions have sometimes terrible consequences. Continue reading “Review: Don Juan Comes Back From The War, Finborough Theatre”

Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse

“I did not come here for a political diatribe”

I have a friend who has a mortal fear of the embarrassment she would suffer if she were to die on the toilet (yeah, I know!) but the manner of playwright Ödön von Horváth’s death is so bizarrely random, killed by a falling tree branch on the way to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at the cinema, that I think I’d take it (although I’d want to be on the way to an art-house film rather than The Green Lantern – pretentious to the end ;-)) In which convoluted way leads us to the Southwark Playhouse who are putting on his 1933 play Faith, Hope and Charity. It has been translated by Christopher Hampton who also did the English version for the Almeida’s Judgment Day, my only other von Horváth experience.

The main premise of the story is of how the working class individual can struggle to make ends meet for a lifetime yet still be lost in and crushed by a social system that cares nothing for them. Saleswoman Elisabeth is such a person: fined for selling lingerie without a permit which she can’t afford to buy because she hasn’t got a job, she borrows money to pay the fine and borrows some more to get the permit, but her economy with the truth – after all who would lend money to a petty criminal – gets her into even more trouble as she struggles to keep life and love on track. Continue reading “Review: Faith Hope and Charity, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: Judgment Day, Almeida Theatre

“The train is coming…”

Judgment Day is a play by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, which has been translated here at the Almeida theatre by Christoper Hampton. One of the first commissions after Michael Attenborough’s arrival as Artistic Director, Hampton has long been a champion of this writer and this is the first full production of this play in this country. Von Horváth wrote much of his anti-Nazi work in Germany in the 1930s, but opted to remain in the country to study the encroaching rise of Nazism, instead of fleeing like many of his compatriots such as Brecht.

It’s the story of Hudetz, a stationmaster of a small village who, distracted one evening by a popular local girl eager for a kiss, fails to make the necessary signal to a passing train causing a devastating fatal crash. The girl Anna then perjures herself to defend Hudetz as he seeks to escape justice, despite his unhappy wife also witnessing the events. We then see the effects of overwhelming grief on this pair as they struggle to carry on with their lives, exacerbated by the ever-changing moods of the townspeople, whose vicious, bigoted anger seems to be refocused with every new piece of gossip that comes their way. Continue reading “Review: Judgment Day, Almeida Theatre”