Based in the quirky heights of the Soho Theatre, something entirely different is happening for the team and Artistic Director Steve Marmion. Normally a home primarily to new writing, the theatre has taken a gamble on staging a 75-year-old play. And that gamble has paid off.
The entire production and its history is a statement in itself, having been written by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor under a pseudonym because it was deemed “too strong” to appear under the name of a woman, the book offers the starting point for the play of the same name. The book was also subsequently banned in Germany due to exposing the threat of Nazism.
It’s set in the 1930s, where friends Max, a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco, and Martin, his business partner who returned to Munich to support his growing family, are in constant correspondence with each other. They talk about friends, family, and their lifestyles, but things soon turn sour after Hitler comes into power, threatening their beliefs, friendships and families. It sounds like quite a heavy play but, at 60 minutes, it feels just enough to get its point across: an anti-fascist call to arms.
It is set in the period offices (crafted by Katie Lias) of the two men, who write letters to each other in alternating monologues, which could become tiresome, but a mixture of the great directing, expert acting and gripping script makes you genuinely eager to hear the next letter. Simon Kunz plays a superb Max, a single man who relies heavily on his friend for support and conversation from Germany, and in the play’s most shocking moments, depicts a stillness that evokes emotion so strongly the audience dare not breathe. In a stark contrast, Jonathan Cullen shows us Martin, who is swept up in the tide of Jewish hatred, and changes the entire audiences’ opinion of him in two sentences. Both bounce off each other through the exchanges perfectly.
The second statement that this production makes is that it is played simultaneously in both French and English. Luckily, I saw the English version, but the French version was sold out two weeks before it even opened, thanks to the translation of the original book in 1995, it warranted these extra performances, and the numerous productions since in French theatres.
The production has been expertly directed, written and acted, and provides an evening of not necessarily light entertainment, but a provocative and devastating hour of friendship and betrayal.
Address Unknown is playing The Soho Theatre until the 27 July 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.