Theatre at its best should be thought-provoking but with tones of lightness making it a mix of enjoyment and heartache, stimulating both the mind and soul. In the financial crisis it seems the bigger the budget and visual effects, the better, losing a sense of deeply rooted emotion and truth – the opposite strikes back by intentionally provoking the audience to a breakpoint as to punish them and the industry for commercialising theatre and human thought. It seems hard to find a perfect balance of entertainment and stimulation for your brain. East of Berlin at Southwark Playhouse is probably one of the best candidates this summer.
Walking a thin line between a horrifying historical lesson on World War II brutalities and a very personal human journey from child to adulthood the play clutches at your heart, gently nudging your brain towards awareness. We meet Rudi (Jordan McCurrach) outside his father’s study in Paraguay, ready to confront him about his role in Nazi Germany as a Nazi SS doctor experimenting on prisoners at Auschwitz. Through Jordan McCurrach’s charming and troubled Rudi we are brought back to his youth, discovering the truth about his father through a friend that leads him on the journey to West Berlin. In the archives of a library he meets Sarah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and Rudi’s path to redemption is blurred with love, guilt and his father’s distant presence, leaving him the only option of confronting him and their history.
Storytelling is beautifully weighted in Jordan McCurrach’s performance and he delivers with delicacy in feeling, a powerful grounding and effortless connection with the audience inviting us into the very core of the story – his conflicting heart. He depicts the rivalling love and hate for his father with such ease, and supported by a strong performance from Tom Lincoln and Jo Herbert’s passionate and eccentric Sarah, the small cast drive the play with such fluidity and spirit we are drawn in from the very beginning, wanting to invest in every part of their story. Director Blythe Stewart has found the beauty in the piece’s intensity and subtlety – she directs with a gentle hand allowing it a sense of delicate, clear emotion, which has a very young but surprisingly rooted and almost wise feel to it. The production is never muddy or forceful, and with Holly Pigott’s excitingly clever design, using the old archives as a set for everything, East of Berlin takes you on a small, but very important and significant journey not only through the impact of some our cruellest history, but also the equally important journey for a son towards the understanding of himself and his father.
Hannah Moscovitch’s play hits all the right notes with fantastic sense of tempo, pressure and heart. The balance between history and emotion is superbly executed, and you are left with a very satisfying feeling of both horror and love in your heart, a very grim and sweet taste in your mouth. I entered the theatre sleep-deprived and in a gloomy state of mind – I left feeling incredibly alive and awakened, something that proves great art really is the best medicine.
East of Berlin is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 12 July. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.