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Amsterdam (Susan Elkin reviews)

by Maya Arad Yasur, translated by Eran Edry. Co-produced by Actor’s Touring Company & Theatre Royal Plymouth
performance date: 13 Sep 2019
venue: Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2SA

Michal Horowicz, Hara Yannas, Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek in AMSTERDAM by Maya Arad Yasur – Orange Tree Theatre. Photo: Helen Murray


Matthew Xia’s first production as Artistic Director of Actor’s Touring Company (ATC) is a strange mixture. It’s spiky, original, thought-provoking and showcases some good acting. On the other hand it is also very slow, tortuously wordy, self-consciously and transparently “clever” and tediously repetitive.

Four actors present Maya Arad Yasur’s play (translated by Eran Edry) as a piece of shared storytelling. The conceit is the suggestion that they are making it up as they go along, constantly doubling back and changing details. And when any of them speaks in Dutch or German one of them rings a bill which triggers a dash by the speaker to a microphone to deliver a translation – funny the first few times but it soon it becomes predictable and pointless.

The story which gradually emerges (sort of) is that of a heavily pregnant, present day Jewish violinist living in Amsterdam who unaccountably receives a massive gas bill – charges have been accruing since 1944. Cue for the plot, such as it is, to explore (circuitously) the Jewish experience in 1940s Amsterdam. Three quarters of all Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

Xia makes pleasing use of Orange Tree Theatre’s quite small square, in-the-round playing space and I like the novelty of the chain mail curtain (design Naomi Kuyck-Cohen) which bisects it in the second half. It creates doorways and rattles. I have no idea what it is meant to suggest or symbolise but it is interestingly unusual to look at.

Actors don’t play parts as such in this play. They tell a role-shifitng story. The two women, Michal Horowicz and Hara Yannas bring crispness and clarity of diction. They make a lot of eye contact with the audience too although the continual head swivelling feels a bit contrived. Daniel Abelson is strong and forceful with a talent for quite funny one-liners and Fiston Barek is a fine on-stage active listener – always an indicator of intelligent acting.

Another quirk of this piece is its occasional physicality. At one point, for instance the cast becomes a flock of starlings. With movement work by Jennifer Jackson it’s theatrically quite arresting although it adds little to the story telling.

Everyone involved in this production – the cast and creatives – identifies as “other” including Jewish men and women, black men Greek, African, South American, LGBT+, Irish, Traveller and disabled. The raison d’etre of ATC is to produce plays which come from beyond our shores and to give voice to “the outsider within.” Amsterdam certainly does that but it would have been better if it had done so less obscurely.


 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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