DramaReviewSouth West

Amsterdam – Theatre Royal, Plymouth

Reviewer: Joan Phillips

Writer: Maya Arad Yasur

Director: Matthew Xia

Our main, un-named, character, a talented violinist, is proud of the apartment she rents in Amsterdam: the view over the canals from her window; the convenient and historic location; the smart address. But when one day she receives a gas bill for €1400 dating back to 1944 and she starts to ask questions about what stories the old building is hiding.

Amsterdam has an uncomfortable relationship with its history following the Nazi occupation during World War II. 75% of Dutch Jews did not survive the holocaust. Those few survivors who returned to their former homes often found they were presented with the unpaid bills accumulated from the occupying personnel stationed there during the war.

Alongside the staggering horrors of the holocaust itself, is the banality of a 75-year-old unpaid bill that demands payment and our attention. This one piece of paper with 75 years of compound interest charge becomes a metaphor for the institutionalised everyday injustices and the growing enormity of the unresolved consequences of a city’s history.

Our main character becomes obsessed with questions around the bill and her building’s history. Heavily pregnant, she pursues the source of the bill, while going about her everyday life.

Jewish herself, but not from the Netherlands, she feels her sense of foreign-ness everywhere. Conscious of how her different looks, accent and unfamiliarity with the city she now lives in estrange her from her adopted country, she imagines conversations with those around her to persuade them she is no different. Sometimes the paranoia is clearly absurd which has its comical side, but when she imagines the intrusive gynaecologist inspection has racist undertones the reminder to the scientific experiments that some in labour camps endured is unavoidable.

Maya Arad Yasur chooses a non-linear approach to telling her story, flashing back and forwards between times and situations. The use of four actors continually interchanging roles, interrupting each other, almost competing to tell the main story, suggests something exciting at first but mostly ends up being too disorientating. Though the ensemble cast (Anyebe Godwin, Michal Horowicz, Anya Jaya and Uri Levy) work well to hold our attention it becomes too much hard work to keep up with the confusion.

This short 80-minute production hints at something bigger. The marginalisation of minorities, the need to reconcile and address historic injustices, the retribution after WWII – even among the resistance, are all dangled in front of us but gets lost in the confusion and the short nature of the work. Along the way, as our protagonist starts to unravel the building’s secrets, there are hints of a chilling family story and a tantalising thrilling mystery to be resolved.

Reviewed on 3 March 2020 | Image: Contributed

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