Anything That Flies
Anything That Flies, Jermyn Street Theatre, London SW1, until November 11.
An elderly Jewish German emigre living in Belsize Park is listening to Brahms, lost in the music. His doorbell rings, and from that moment his life changes irrevocably. The visitor initially addresses him in German, and his furious response is no surprise. What follows is the beginning of an extraordinary relationship between two people who have both known trauma and loss from different sides of a spectrum.
Judith Burnley’s play Anything That Flies is a remarkable achievement. For 90 minutes we watched spellbound, as the events that unfold prompt laugher, tears, horror and anger. Set in 1991, as the Berlin Wall has fallen and Germany has reunited, the play visits some of the unspeakable suffering of both Jews in Germany under the Nazis and German citizens who were anti-Nazi and then ended up on the wrong side of the post-war divide between East and West.
Lotte is from a German aristocratic family who lost everything, and Otto is the sole survivor of a family who died in Buchenwald. He had come to London on a music scholarship in the1930s before all the Jews were rounded up and sent to the camps. As the play unfolds, both characters have much to learn about themselves and the other party.
Lotte has been sent to live at Otto’s flat by his daughter to work as his carer, following a recent stroke. His initial reaction to her presence is one of disgust and denial, although as the play unfolds it becomes clear that he needs support and help. He becomes confused, has memory loss, and darts from subject to subject. He is fearful of losing yet more of his faculties, mourns the loss of his family, yet cannot bring himself to sign the reparation papers from the German government that will help provide for his daughter and granddaughter.
Alice Hamilton’s production at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a gem. The set design is a perfect rendering of an elderly, solitary, intellectual widower’s home. The walls are lined with books and pictures, and Otto cradles the beloved viola that he can no longer play. He listens to music through one of the sound systems produced by the successful company he founded.
In this remarkable cameo, two people find an entente which is shattered when Lotte makes Otto a roast chicken for supper. His furious, violent, incomprehensible reaction leads to the hideous final revelation about the fate of his sister.
Clive Merrrison plays Otto and Issy van Randwyck’s Lotte is a perfect complement. The production makes use of every inch of the small Jermyn Street Theatre stage. It is part of the ‘Escape Season’ currently running at the theatre. I have now seen two of the four plays in this season and both have been excellent. You have until November 11th to catch this, but after this they are showing a new production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie in an adaptation by Howard Brenton that will run until 2 December. What’s not to like?