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Anything That Flies (Susan Elkin reviews)

Judith Burnley’s stunningly well written, new two-hander play has more layers than an apfelstrudel. It’s 1991. The Berlin Wall has just come down. Germany is reunited and two Germans are in a flat in Belsize Park. They have much in common and much to divide them because their perspectives on the events of the preceding 60 years are very different.

Lottie (Issy van Randwyck) comes from an aristocratic family who stood out against Hitler and lost everything and everybody. She is far from being the Nazi that Otto (Clive Merrrison) initially accuses her of being. He is a displaced Jew, most of whose family went to the death camps. Otto, now frail and in need of help, is twenty years older than Lottie who has moved in as his new resident carer and he is deeply suspicious and resentful.

At one level this is a powerful, moving and immaculately observed study of the volatility and vulnerability of old age. Merrison conveys all the stiffness of a man recovering from a stroke with some mental impairment – one minute alert, the next vague, then fearful with frequent, abrupt changes of subject, random rants and occasional sexual lunges. His eyes dart as he shrinks into his chair, terrified of his immediate future because he wants to remain in full control of his life but knows he can’t. Then a few minutes later he stops telling Lottie she’s a bossy Nazi and offers her cogent wisdom and warmth. It’s a very truthful performance, graphically but gently punctuated with some of the more unfortunate physical realities of old age.

Issy van Randwyck works well with him. There’s a strong sense of two accomplished actors listening – really listening – to each other as their respective, horrifying back stories gradually emerge. Crisply voiced and classy (lovely clothes – designed by Emily Adamson and Neil Irish who also provide a winningly realistic set), van Randwyck makes her character kind, competent and calm but profoundly troubled by her past. Then she bakes a roast chicken and Merrison’s character reacts with unfathomable violence. A climactic soliloquy (no spoilers here) finally tells us precisely why this musician and successful designer won’t have anything that flies in his home.

Above the level of the problems of old age this play is about loss. Otto is under pressure to sign papers applying for compensation for property taken from his family by the Nazis so that his daughter and granddaughter far away in Israel can benefit. Both characters have lost loved ones in hideous circumstances. Otto now faces the loss of his independence and he’s already lost the ability to play the viola.

It’s a very compelling 90 minutes of theatre.

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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