Review: Amsterdam, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Amsterdam serves as a warning for the present so as to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Beautifully written, the show slowly unravels to reveal the suffering of those that are pushed to the edges of society through their perceived otherness. Written by Maya Arad Yasur, the text requires a subtlety and careful handling by the performers to bring the world to life upon the bare stage and unfortunately, much of the meaning is lost due to this.

Amsterdam’s plot follows the life of a pregnant violinist living along the canal-side in Amsterdam whose life is upturned due to the arrival of an unpaid gas bill from 1944, the very end of WW2. The audience is never directly introduced to any of the characters within the show, instead the story is narrated to us through multiple different layers. The events of the show exist within a large yellow square painted upon the stage in which the immediate narration takes place. The second layer exists outside the world of this square and explains any language or references used by the actors.

The show itself is beautifully written, and the language flows freely from narrator to narrator as they argue, admitting themselves upon the correct telling of the story. Regrettably this is both the show’s greatest strength and its downfall. The nature of the language requires the actors to be dynamic within their storytelling, their relationships to the plot and with other characters within the world. 

With the exception of Uri Levy who manages to bring a unique character full of intrigue, charm and arrogance, the other performances are bland and unbelievable. Despite the skill of the writer, most nuance and even plot points are lost through the delivery of the actors, making the show a chore to sit through. There are points during the show where the performers shine as an ensemble, but they are unfortunately few. The energy created is enough to pull me through the show, creating an attachment for the characters despite the narrators ever truly having to embody them.

This issue is made even more prominent due to the lack of set for the story to unfold on. The stage consists of a small desk at the back of the stage, a microphone and one armchair. Ultimately, this bareness leaves the performers with very little to fall back on bar the world in which they have created. Despite this, there is the introduction of one set piece that picks up the tension during the latter half of the show in the shape of a large chain-link wall hung from the ceiling. From a sheer monumental point of view, this addition is definitely a spectacle with the clanking of metal driving the metaphor home.

The most poignant moments within Amsterdam arise during the addition of this wall. The extra senses added and the very oppressive nature of the metal bring a very real harshness to the show. The bareness of the world makes every plot development hit home, yet I find I want to be able to witness these impacts through the eyes of a single character, and without that I find the show somewhat unresolved by the end. Amsterdam at its core feels more like a lesson in which to find meaning than a fully formed show, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This is an important show for its message, but its emotional core needs to go further in order to truly shake the audience.

Amsterdam is playing the Theatre Royal Plymouth until 14 March. For more information and tickets, visit the Theatre Royal Plymouth website.