Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 7 June 2015

Now This is Not the End

Arcola Theatre ⋄ 3rd June - 27th June 2015

No place like home.

Rik Baker

In the stakes of describing human experience, English is a poor cousin to German. There are whole concepts hunkered in the German psyche for which we have no equivalent. Among them is the German word heimat, which in English is frequently rendered as ‘home’ or ‘homeland’, but which has far deeper cultural resonances which extend to childhood, language, social background, and nationhood.

Rose Lewenstein’s play is, in part, an exercise in the untranslatability of this translation, both in terms of language and in terms of cultural experience. But it is also a memory play about the importance of remembering and the need to forget, and about how the experience of dementia reveals as much about the past as it obscures the present.

On a bare thrust stage, populated only by Holly Pigott’s effectively sparse design (several chairs and backed by skirting boards arranged geometrically on the wall behind to suggest a window), the drama is played out across two locations that are as removed geographically as they are chronologically – London 2011; Berlin 2014. At a surface level, these two settings simply separate two stages in Lewenstein’s autobiographically-named protagonist’s student life – before university, and at the end of her year abroad in Berlin. But Lewenstein’s master-stroke is to bind inextricably Rosie’s life with her grandmother Eva’s, who fled the Nazis as a Jewish refugee during the Second World War. As Rosie learns German, falls in love with the German Sebastian, and begins to dream in German, Eva’s memories of her childhood in Berlin gradually slip away from her, leaving only the image of the blue door of her house on Essener Straße burning incandescently in her dying imagination.

The bridge between these two worlds, both generationally and mnemonically, is Susan – Rosie’s mother and Eva’s daughter. In what forms the central action of this carefully crafted chamber piece, Susan asks her mother for a cassette tape that she recorded in 2002, in which she interviews her about her experiences during the Holocaust in order to ‘remember’, to have something ‘to believe in’. Now, with the onset of Eva’s dementia, the tape assumes the importance of a cultural artefact, one which validates, in Susan’s mind at least, the objectivity of history, that certain events did happen – a position denied intellectually by Sebastian, and opposed vehemently by Eva’s second husband Arnold.

There are some very strong performances here. Jasmine Blackborow gives us a Rosie in love with the thrill of new experiences (love, language, wine), but unable to unravel the enigma of what it is to feel ‘home’ in the German sense of the word. Her relationship with Sebastian, played to perfection and with a faultless German accent by Daniel Donskoy, is a fraught one, though I sense that we only see a side of their relationship – that point at which it intersects with Rosie’s family. Perhaps this is fitting, since the play is as much about family as it is about home, or memory. Two of the three generations are defined by their second marriages as much as by their inability to talk about the past in any meaningful way, beyond muddled reminiscence or dogmatic self-denial.

Yet the past, with its memories, its places and people, is what is missing from Rosie’s concept of home. Coming at it from the English angle, she’s blinkered: unable to see in order to go forward she must first go back. The pity of Lewenstein’s play is that its protagonist is to lazy, too naive, to explore the terms of her own homeland beyond passing a final wry comment on the untranslatability of heimat. Whereas Eva’s entire existence is bound up not only with a childhood sense of place and faces, but with the cultural guilt of a nation at appropriating the terms of its own homeland-ness for a fascist agenda, and Brigit Forsyth’s performance throughout never lets us forget that whatever else she has forgotten, that guilt remains.

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Rik Baker

A London-based writer and actor, Richard Baker is a member of Fourth Monkey Theatre Company, and has previously reviewed theatre for Broadway Baby at the Edinburgh Fringe. He is the founder of The Scribe Revue, the theatre reviewing arm of the Leeds-based Scribe Magazine. When not acting or reviewing, Richard also works box office for The Print Room in Notting Hill to pay the bills.

Now This is Not the End Show Info


Produced by Rebecca Targett Productions in association with Raising Silver Theatre

Directed by Katie Lewis

Written by Rose Lewenstein

Cast includes Jasmine Blackborow, Daniel Donskoy, Brigit Forsyth, Wendy Nottingham, Andrew Whipp, and Bernard Lloyd

Link https://www.arcolatheatre.com/

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