Amsterdam at Orange Tree Theatre
Acclaimed playwright Maya Arad Yasur unveils her latest production Amsterdam at Orange Tree Theatre. Loosely based on a past she herself inherits, the show brings together poignant memories of historical abominations and a present-day awakening. Sensitively directed by Matthew Xia, the piece connects four characters whose identities intertwine, taking the audience on a political journey through intolerance, prejudice and history.
Our main protagonist remains nameless, a pregnant violinist and Israeli Jew living in an apartment in modern Amsterdam. An unexpected knock at her door presents her with an unpaid gas bill from 1944. The mysterious debt brings back the atrocities of the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust as the play unravels the tragic circumstances in which the former landlady, Mevrouw van Heugten, accrued such a huge debt.
Yasur evinces a parallel between these two Jewish women with drip-fed suggestions that past prejudices might persist in the present. We see the protagonist feeling judged in the supermarket as she goes to collect groceries, being told at the hairdressers that she doesn’t have European hair, and apologising to her acting agent for Israeli tension in Gaza. Her constant feeling of being an “other” is desperately sad: she tries so hard to attach herself to the city she lives in.
The story is told through rehearsed improvisation, the four actors taking turns to narrate without any playing a static character. A strikingly sincere performance by Daniel Abelson achieves some authenticity in Yasur’s choice of storytelling, but unfortunately Fiston Barek’s soft-lilting words sometimes lose the pace. A straightforward performance from Hara Yannas balances this out, whilst Michal Horowicz’s impishness injects some much-needed moments of humour. The space is used well thanks to Jennifer Jackson’s choreography, with a simple set and a small bell that is rung each time a Dutch or Hebrew word needs translating.
Yasur encourages us to consider Europe in 2019, with its political unrest and ever-present prejudices. Amsterdam is a lengthy, hard-hitting piece of drama, as enlightening as it is exhausting to watch.
Photos: Helen Murray
Amsterdam is a co-production between Orange Tree Theatre, Actors Touring Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth. It is at Orange Tree Theatre from 6th September until 12th October 2019, and will go on tour in February 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.