Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 3 June 2017
As much as I champion innovation in structure and style, sometimes a classic, linear two-act play surprises with its power and relevance. Stephen Unwin’s new play All Our Children, though occasionally a touch overwritten, uses a historical narrative as potent criticism of current Tory policy of dehumanising budget cuts against society’s most vulnerable.
Victor is a paediatric physician and the head of an institute for disabled people under the age of 25 in 1941 Cologne. The Nazis have taken over the facility’s operations and it has been decreed that every fortnight, the most vulnerable residents are to be transferred to a death camp.
Victor clearly struggles with the conflict between his pledge to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, and the potential consequences of not following the regime’s orders. Unwell and plagued by his fanatic head of administration Eric, his devoutly Catholic maid Martha and the mother of one of the patients, Victor just wants to get through the day that will end with a visit from the Bishop, who has heard rumours about the institute’s role in the reported genocide.
Despite a few moments of capital-a Acting, the cast is generally invested and truthful, and the intimate theatre supports Colin Tierney’s expression of Victor’s externalised conflict beautifully. Lucy Speed as a mother unafraid to express unconditional love for her “different” son is the radical contrast to Edward Franklin’s despicable fascist with no regard for human life. David Yelland’s bishop is a moral conundrum in himself – he advocates for the sanctity of all life, but will not speak out against the persecution of Germany’s Jewish people.
Unwin is commendably unashamed in his comparisons to current political thought – like UKIP and the Brexiteers, Eric has “had enough of clever people”. He totally believes in the murder of disabled people because of the cost the state incurs for their care, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the latter held the same views. “The common good” must be the primary consideration, with the weaker excluded from this demographic. It’s easy to picture many of the current administration grinning maniacally over a budget that silences the poor, the disabled and the different, and brings to mind recent news that disabled people are to be ‘warehoused’ in Austerity Britain.
Simon Higlett’s set is also to be commended here – Victor’s office is carefully considered, with the detailed furnishings indicating time and place as well as a man that values beauty in life rather than just the functional.
Wholly absorbing and irrevocably relevant despite its traditional style, All Our Children is a fantastic specimen of contemporary new writing. Its exemplification of history repeating itself is powerful, well-executed and generally tightly constructed. So tell all your Tory friends to see it before it goes.