Amsterdam at Orange Tree Theatre online
When a pregnant Israeli violinist living in present-day Amsterdam is delivered a bill from 1944, Maya Arad Yasur’s play (translated by Eran Edry) almost comically asks: who’s going to pay for all this gas? Yet, as Amsterdam twists together past and present, history and identity, Yasur opens the mundane question to profound moral ones: what is owed, by whom, and to what?
Despite resonating with Amsterdam’s (and by extension, Europe’s) history of antisemitism, Yasur’s concerns appear more diffuse and humanistic. While the “central character” of the play conducts a knotty exploration of her Jewish and Israeli identity, Yasur delves beyond these self-defined borders into broader understandings of ethnicity, otherness and belonging. Through the play, “what is owed, by whom and to what” is more than a gas bill, but also more than the Nazi perpetration of genocide. These ethical notions implicate all of us, whether we’re gentile or Jew, Israeli or European, immigrant or indigene.
Matthew Xia’s UK production at the Orange Tree Theatre Richmond (in collaboration with The Actors’ Touring Company and Theatre Royal Plymouth) complements Yasur’s script in its defiance of anything too concretely conventional or periodised. Huddled in the round, Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s minimalist set brings the audience and four performers (Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz, Hara Yannas) together in a shared informal, imaginative space in which the intimate and unfamiliar are evoked.
The ensemble eschews realised characters to create bickering storytellers that speed through Yasur’s polyphonic writing in deft, energetic fashion. They tell their stories, interrupt, contradict and contest each other as the narrative seems to form discordantly in front of us. Only Abelson calls attention to himself through aggressive comedy, but otherwise these performers weave seamlessly through the jumbled voices, thoughts and symbols in Yasur’s complex, burdened stream of consciousness.
The writing’s satirical qualities only strain when provocative pronouncements need to be underscored and a “ring-the-bell” expository-translation joke falls flat. Despite Yasur’s tendency to ironise heavily, Amsterdam offers up moments of genuine self-reflection. Yasur’s play invites us to consider how difficult, fractured yet intertwined our sense of person, place and memory can be. We shouldn’t be tourists of history.
Photos: Helen Murray
Amsterdam is available to stream on Orange Tree Theatre’s YouTube channel for a limited time from 27th March 2020. For further information or to watch visit the theatre’s YouTube channel here.