Jermyn Street Theatre, London – until 3 June 2017
Stephen Unwin’s production looks at an issue that should be firmly in the past but which will strongly resonate with a modern audience. Colin Tierney plays Victor, a senior paediatrician in a Cologne clinic. It is January 1941 and his job isn’t just to treat ill children but to work with his Head of Administration Eric (Edward Franklin), a fanatic Nazi, to dispose of those that are a drain on the Reich.
What makes Unwin’s piece so powerful is not only a story of humanising and dehumanising that will be familiar to anyone that has followed coverage of disability benefits and cuts to disabled people’s support in terms of finances and independence. It is also a look at how people dealt with this situation; anger, bafflement and confusion from the women in this story; Martha (Rebecca Johnson), his maid and strong Catholic who supports the Nazis but worries about not only her children but the future of Germany and Lucy Speed as a mother whose son has been taken into the care of the clinic or at least that is what she is lead to believe.
The most powerful performance is Tierney, whose warm Welsh voice is a contrast to his cold demeanour; a man constantly reminding us that the last war robbed him of his chance to become a father and he simply cannot understand those who care about their children but it is clear he does care with his drinking and lack of sleep blamed on a persistent cough. What is clear that all the characters are haunted by their past as much as their present and future. All suffered in the First World War and they continue to suffer. The image of Cologne destroyed except for the spires of the Cathedral is a powerful image.
The play is a little too long and David Yelland’s appearance as the Cardinal feels like an unnecessary distraction. On one hand we need this outsider to bring out the characters true feelings but alternatively, it could have easily come out between the main three characters. There was also an unnecessary storyline involving Martha’s daughter and Eric, presumably to provide a source of conflict between Martha and Eric but it feels like Unwin, a theatre veteran, doesn’t have confidence in his writing to make the conflict about what happens in that clinic the source rather than the introduction extra stories and characters. The story is already so vivid and so strong, aided by Simon Higlett’s stunning yet simple set with its dark wood and a filing cabinet that hides the pain behind Victor’s eyes.
A powerful work with powerful performances the real shame is that the Jermyn Street Theatre isn’t a bigger venue for more people to see this.