First seen at the Orange Tree Theatre in 2019, Maya Arad Yasur’s play is a stark reminder that we should never forget the past and as much as possible try and prevent history repeating itself.
This fast paced play by Maya Arad Yasur having first played at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond in 2019 is still available to watch online and still has immense relevancy.
Directed with great urgency by Matthew Xia, the story flits between modern day Amsterdam and the city back in the 1940’s to examine the horrors of the Nazi occupation. Meanwhile in the present, a pregnant Israeli violinist in her canal-side apartment receives a gas bill dated back to 1944 is delivered through her door by an elderly neighbour. As she tries to uncover the meaning behind it, the horrors of Amsterdam’s past are uncovered.
This is a very unusual production and play as the way in which it unfolds is completely unconventional – meaning that it is difficult to keep up with all the complex twists and turns it takes. Every story that is featured is told by four different narrators – all of whom have a different approach to storytelling. While this style is certainly distinctive, it does feel disorientating as well as it switches between the period of time so quickly it doesn’t give you an awful lot of time to really feel the impact of what is being said.
It is a real shame because it is a play that has plenty to say about xenophobia and stereotypes that certainly serve as a timely reminder – even sadly during these times as recent events in the last twelve months can certainly prove. On a deeper level, Yasur’s play also serves as a striking warning about how we need to learn from history to avoid making the same mistakes.
Unfortunately, it does feel as though some of the seriousness of what is being said is lost as the narrators squabble among themselves about the right way to tell the story and recounting what actually happened. This really isn’t helped by the disruption of the narrative as each narrator rings a bell to prompt the cast member to head to a microphone in the corner to translate a foreign word or phrase. While used for comic effect, it feels as though as a device it tends to be overused.
On the other hand, the performances from the cast really capture the brutality that emerges – particularly as the play reaches its climax in a really chilling way. Each performer (Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz and Hara Yannas) are all so equally impressive in their commitment to telling the story with their energy levels never dropping from start to finish. They all bounce off each other and manage to keep the story flowing.
Intense and very obscure in terms of its structure, this is certainly one to watch if you don’t like stories being told in a conventional manner. It is clever and unique- but somehow for me it felt as though the story was somewhat lost due to the way in which it has been presented.
By Emma Clarendon
Amsterdam is available to watch here.