Monday, April 22

Nachtland – Young Vic

This play by Marius von Mayenberg  presented in a translation by Maja Zade sells itself as “a jagged new satire” and is set in modern-day Germany.

Siblings Nicola (Dorothea Myar-Bennett) and Philipp (a nervously downtrodden John Heffernan) are clearing out their late father’s house.

Curiously most of his goods are being cleared from the stage as the audience file in, leaving one item wrapped in brown paper, found in the attic.

It’s a painting of a church, a simple piece, but the signature is of the most interest. Is it indeed a painting by Hitler, and if so how did it find its way here?

There is plenty of mileage here for black humour or satire, but the pacing feels off and some segues are either head-scratching (Nicola’s husband Fabian (Gunnar Cauthery)’s behaviour takes a very curious turn into abstract absurdity) or distasteful (a late detour into potential incest).

Philipp’s Jewish wife, Judith (Jenna Augen), offers some resistance to the painting being genuine, as well as revulsion to using any money from its sale. However a turn to comment on the current situation in Gaza feels misplaced.

When an art expert, Evamaria (Jane Horrocks) appears, the moral aspects of dealing with tainted art rear their head, with Angus Wright’s Nazi obsessed buyer coming across as both repellent and oddly charismatic.

Photo: Ellie Kurttz

We never see the picture in question, nor is its authenticity or significance really explored beyond misappropriation of grandma Greta’s past. The family siblings are politics neutral, but Nicola’s goading of her sister-in-law is problematic.

Nachtland tries to say a lot, but whether it is the fault of the original writer, the translator, or director Patrick Marber, it is often an uncomfortable watch for all the wrong reasons.

It’s a pity, as satires such as The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, The Government Inspector, or Accidental Death of an Anarchist show that you can tackle delicate or difficult situations through grotesque humour and exaggerated farce.

Anna Fleischle’s set is dominated by cracks in both floor and back, echoing the issues being faced by this family. Spotlights (lighting by Richard Howell) harshly unmask or drag characters into focus. A truly bizarre moment of dancing to Iggy Pop leaves us puzzled.

If Nachtland hopes to say something about the rise of the far-right in modern-day Germany, it needs to explore why Evamaria was so well-connected to generations of Nazi sympathisers, and explain the absence of any information on the father who has died, or the mother who is never even mentioned.

With the potential to scare, warn, and probe the topic in question through an ironical lens, Nachtland sadly doesn’t live up to its promise, despite committed performances.

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Reviewer: Louise Penn

Reviewed: 28th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.