Monday, 20 September 2010

Von Ribbentrop's Watch Premièred at Oxford Playhouse.

Marks and Gran's Von Ribbentrop's Watch is a departure for Oxford Playhouse with their team taking the script 'from first draft to its world premiere' finally delivering a 'domestic drama with historical and religious debate'.

Main protagonist Gerald Roth (Nicholas Woodeson) inherits a watch from his father. However, he later discovers that this is no ordinary watch. It is a watch with history - a dangerous and dark history. It transpires it once belonged to Joachim von Ribbentrop, a notorious Nazi and the first man hanged at Nuremburg. This is particularly distressing as Gerald is Jewish. Should he sell it to a possibly 'dormant Nazi' and betray his heritage? Laurence Marks based the narrative on his own experience - an experience that must have played on his conscience as it certainly does with Gerald.

Taking place on the first night of Passover, the drama is about family and despite its original shocking premise is unashamedly a 'comedy'. 'Jewish' humour is something that people get excited about and I do not deny its influence yet I have to admit to personal misgivings. However, on this occasion I found myself warmed by the quickfire broad humour of the matriarch Mrs Roth (Barbara Young) who delivered the best lines whilst sparring with her 'shiksa' daughter-in-law Ruth (Gwyneth Young). The humour was gentle and never bitter, unlike the herbs served at the Passover meal.

Unfortunately, the rhythm of the first half was somewhat let down towards the end of the second with the inclusion of a fantasy sequence that broke the tension. This crude plot device could so easily be excised without marring the overall sweep of the drama. A fellow reviewer felt the same yet added that the play was 'cold, bland and rather empty'. However, from where I was sitting, I saw rather the opposite. It may not be Ibsen or Chekhov and surely, no one would expect that from the writers of Birds of a Feather. What the two writers have achieved, however, In Von Ribbentrop's Watch is a story with both depth and warmth and all expertly delivered. Most importantly, it is presented with humour and without recourse to bullying didacticism that is so often the case with 'issues'.

by David Stockton for remotegoat on 20/09/10

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