Review: 52 Monologues for Young Transsexuals, Soho Theatre - pink sequins and wipe-clean rubber flooring
Review: For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Garrick Theatre - seamless theatre

Review: Nachtland, Young Vic Theatre - provocation and problems

Nachtland Young Vic poster

As the audience arrives at the Young Vic, four of the Nachtland cast are removing a vast array of household items from the stage. It's a process I find strangely fascinating: Is it random what they take, or carefully coordinated and the same every night, timed to perfection to coincide with a 7.30pm start?

I'll probably never know, but after the final item is removed and the lights dimmed, the context behind the exercise becomes clear. In modern-day Germany, siblings Nicola (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Philipp (John Heffernan) are clearing out their late father's house.

They are helped by their respective spouses, Fabian (Gunnar Cauthary) and Judith (Jenna Augen), who is Jewish.

When Nicola addresses the audience (which is frequently the style in the play), she refers to 'my father' to which Philipp takes umbrage. The two fall into squabbling and verbal jibes, displaying resentment built up over many years.

And then there is a discovery. Tucked away in the loft, wrapped in brown paper, is a painting.

The siblings argue about its merits and what to do with it: Nicola wants to get rid, Philipp wants to keep. When the frame is removed, and the artist's identity and association with the Nazis are revealed, opinions about the painting and what to do with it change.

Jane Horrocks plays Evamarie, who is brought in to assess the provenance of the painting and how much it's worth, and it's a lot - to the right buyer. With that amount of Euros at play, the battle lines shift, morals are pushed to one side and underlying prejudices and worse rise to the surface.

The play raises questions about how should we treat the art of artists who have carried out unspeakable acts.

Can you appreciate the art but abhor the artist? And what does moving on from the past look like?

The problem is that the characters quickly find their position and stick to it. The discussions become a series of heated and almost hysterical clashes, illuminating antisemitic undertones but not developing the debate. It becomes a bit one-note.

Philipp and Judith, despite being married, appear to be having their first conversation about the treatment of Jews during the war and in the post-war years, which feels odd.

There are other oddities. There is a Tetanus storyline, another involving masturbation and a third involving a random dance in cut-away underwear, all of which add little to the narrative, characterisation or debate.

Jane Horrocks has a commanding presence but feels underused in the character she plays. Similarly, Fabian is a character that could probably be cut with little damage to the overall play.

When Nachtland is at its best, it's dark, sharply funny, provocative and thought-provoking. But it's equally a frustrating play that doesn't deliver on the promise of its premise.

I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Nachtland, Young Vic

Written by Marius von Mayenburg

Translated by Maya Zade

Directed by Patrick Marber

Starring: Jane Horrocks, John Heffernan, Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Jenna Augen, Gunnar Cauthary

Running time: One hour and 40 minutes without an interval.

Booking until 20 April. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Young Vic website.

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