Broken Glass Aug. 27th, ’11

london west end

I saw “Broken Glass” in its West End pre-run at the Tricycle Theatre in the outskirts of London. And (aside from two tedious taxi-trips I could have done without) that was the best decision. The intimacy of the tiny Theatre gave the play an added intensity, and me an almost voyeuristic pleasure in following the characters’ life for a too short 150 minutes. Arthur Miller places the story he wrote in ’94 in 1934, the dreadful dawn of the Nazi regime. But in truth the play is a timeless study about repression, desperation and forbidden love that drags four people into an abyss of guilt and disgust.

It is the story of  Sylvia Gellburg, who one day is no longer able to move her legs. From the waist down, she is paralysed. But even though it is Sylvia, who visibly suffers, it is in truth all about her husband Philipp. He adores her and loves the attention she draws when she is among friends. But he also can not cope with her being independent and joyful. He is rendered impotent in her presence – both figuratively and literally.

Dr Hyman soon figures out Sylvia’s passive aggressive response to a life in celibacy and her husband’s controlling, flaring temperament – but it is too late for him already: despite his very understanding wife suspecting he has fallen in love with her and she with him.The woman’s illness goes much deeper though. She is appalled by the news from Germany, where after Reichskristallnacht jews are made to scrub the sidewalks with toothbrushes – just to humiliate them. Being jewish herself, Sylvia is shocked and thrown out of her secure life, even more so as her son is in the Military. Philipp on the other hand mocks her fears and foreboding – he is desperately trying to fit into a society he perceives as more and more antisemitic and full of imagined slander against his religion.

But before feelings can complicate the situation even more, Philipp, up till then a very successful accountant, makes a wrong decision and costs his firm a promising deal. It doesn’t only cost him the faith of his employer, it also sends his temper into overdrive. Torn between his resentment of his birth and himself, his failure at his job and his helpless inability to have a normal and satisfying marriage with the woman  he adores, he finally confronts the most obvious “problem” – his boss. And has a heartattack.

As he dies at home in their marital bed he hasn’t been allowed in since his wife fell ill, Sylvia slowly rises from her wheelchair. His last words are “forgive me”.

It is a tense play, supposedly written as some sort of strange therapy, depicting Miller’s own failing marriage with Marilyn Monroe. I didn’t see it that way.

I saw a brilliant study of a jewish couple in an increasingly antisemitic, hostile world, dealing with their attempts to leave lives they hated.

And it was especially Sir Antony Sher’s Philipp that elevated the play from performance to brilliant character study. Sher turned the repressed, self hating accountant into a really pityful character – and yet me and the rest of the audience couldn’t help but feel for this unfortunate man. Sir Antony Sher dominated the stage, his charisma drawing you into a play about lives falling apart – just as the painting on the walls on the minimalist stage blister and peel off. The way he turns from loving husband to hate filled antisemite to raging liar when confronted by his doctor (Stanley Townsend and equally very good) is a fantastic how-to of developing a character before a mesmerised audience.

The play will come to the Vaudeville Theatre in September. If you have any chance, go and see it. It’s so worth it.

Oh – and last, but not least: thank you, dearest Beverley, for pointing out your “other man” to me. You are right, he IS brilliant and I am so lucky to have seen him!

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Anna Christie 27th Aug.’11

london west end

So this is going to be a short one, I think.

First of all – Jude Law is in it. And for the first 10 or so minutes he’s shirtless and wet and proves that if you have a lot of time, you can chisel your body like a statue. Yes, he looks that good even with a hideous beard that covers more than half his face – but that is easily compensated with  a lot of eye rolling and grimacing.

Second: Ruth Wilson is in it. She was the femme fatale in “Luther” and she’s even better on stage. The way she effortlessly changes her personality from the truth to her father’s perception of her is truly awe inspiring.

Third: The play – it is – even tho written bei Eugene O’Neill and awarded with a Pulitzer prize and we are all in awe already – a clunker. The two huge metaphorical elephants in the room nowadays are merely mice at best and that makes it hard to even “get” the tragical events that ensue. So Anna was a prostitute to get by. In Austria a prostitute just wrote a bestseller and married a surgeon. There’s no reason why the father should be eaten by guilt and the would be husband repulsed only to come back two days later to grovel at her feet. And a propos grovelling: everything that goes wrong – the father always blames it on “the old devil sea” – and after a while even the very friendly audience of the Donmar only laughs at his accusation.

There is a moment in the play where I was hoping for a turn-around – the father brings a gun from his last drinking binge. Anna takes it and threatens Mat with it. And then the revolver falls to the ground and lies there, a third metaphorical elephant, plainly visible for everyone, an ominous black thing on an otherwise almost empty stage and we wait… and wait… they both enrolled on the same ship… and wait…

… and then there are the bows and my wonderfully theatre crazy neighbour muttered: I waited for the shooting!!!

Me, too!

Both the father and Mat use heavy accents during the play – I have no idea if that was O’Neill’s idea or this directors, but it made understanding Chris Christopherson rather hard at first . They peter off after Law’s Mat is introduced into the mix, though. The play itself was written in 1921 and centered around the father at first, was even called Chris in the tryouts, until it was introduced on Broadway in ’23 under Anna Christie and with the new focus on prostitute Anna. It might have been an eye opener then, it’s outdated and thematically irrelevant now (even more so when compared to  the Donmar’s last producton, Luise Miller, Schiller’s 1784 written play about corruption and the impossibility of love). That said: the actors are outstanding – even though sometimes hamming it up (yes, Jude, I’m talking to you) – and try their best – alas they have to fail because of the play’s content. I really loved Ruth Wilson – she was brilliant. Even in comparison to an icon – Greta Garbo, who played the part in the ’31 movie adaption – which was the first speaking part for the great Garbo.