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A CurtainUp London Review

"He downed it like he was owning up to all of it; the deception, the love, the betrayal, all of it."

Cast in Amsterdam
(Photo: Helen Murray)
I'm not sure what Amsterdam is but it is not a play as I recognise it but maybe my horizons need broadening? The text looks like a narrative poem with breaks between speakers but no specification as to actors except that there should be at least three of them. No lines are attributed to a speaker or actor. At one point in the production, someone says something about free-flowing storytelling and the audience laughs.

The delivery of these lines are very fast, almost frenetic, and some of the body language exaggerated and extreme. The overall effect is one of being bombarded with words and gestures and the need for some repose, some quiet time for reflection to do justice to the author's words, is felt.

It's a shame because Amsterdam deals with important issues to do with the Nazi occupation and the city's past. 75% of the Jewish population of the Netherlands were sent to the death camps by the Nazis. Reading the text, I am making more sense of Ms Arad Yusur's words than I did in the intimate space of the Orange Tree Theatre.

The director has no help from the designer: the stage is bare except for a desk, an ancient typewriter and a microphone. A bell rings and that is a cue for an actor to go to the microphone in a meta-theatrical riff to explain the meaning of what has just been said.

A gas bill is presented for 1700 Euros. It appears the bill has not been paid since 1944 when the woman living there was carted off to Auschwitz and it has accumulated default payments and fines and interest. Today a young Israeli violinist lives there who is 9 months pregnant.

Last week I was watching a family history programme where a young man traced back his ancestry from Spain. His family were Jewish and had come up against the Spanish Inquisition. The records went back to the late 1600s. After imprisonment and torture his many times great grandfather had escaped Spain and met up with his family in the Netherlands which had religious freedom.

What price that religious freedom under the Nazis? Amsterdam is about a personal betrayal which impinges on family loyalties but I'm still not clear what or who the source of information is for this story.

This production has an important message: "Lest We Forget" when the British Labour Party due to identification with the Palestinian cause faces valid accusations of anti-Semitism. In any case it is a brave and experimental choice for the Actors Touring Company new Artistic Director, Matthew Xia and we wish him success.

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Written by Maya Arad Yasur
Translated by Erin Edry
Directed by Matthew Xia
With: Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz, Hara Yannas
Design: Naomi Kuyck-Cohen
Lighting Design: Ciaran Cunningham
Sound Designer: Max Pappenheim
Movement: Jennifer Jackson
An ATC, Orange Tree Theatre and Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking to 12th October 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th September 2019 evening performance at The Orange Tree, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond TW9 2SA (Rail/Tube: Richmond)
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