At the Southwark Playhouse
29th July, 2014
A guest review by Derek Linney
Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day marked our first visit to the Southwark Playhouse – currently temporarily located in an office/warehouse building near Elephant & Castle but due to return to its roots at London Bridge station once redevelopment there is complete. The theatre immediately appealed to us: a friendly bar/restaurant and a small intimate theatre space that well suited the production.
The play is set in the early 1930s in Weimar Germany where we are effectively present in the main room of an apartment and observe the daily comings and goings of a group of friends centred around the principal character of Agnes. During the play the mood gradually changes from the optimism of the young participants and their support for the KPD (German communist party) to the violence of National Socialism and its persecution of Jews, political opponents (especially communists), homosexuals and radical artists; all of whom are represented among the cast of characters.
Running parallel to this action is a thread of a contemporary (early 1980s when the play was written) American woman talking about the US political situation and especially the wrongs of the administration of Ronald Reagan.
There is an appearance by the devil who, despite being portrayed with a humorously downbeat appearance, brings a chill to the proceedings. There is also an old woman who appears occasionally appears and whom we take to be a ghost although this is not made explicit.
This really shouldn’t work but, despite some feeling that the 1980s American angle dates the plot, it manages to be a powerful piece of theatre. A combination of the gradual insight into the characters’ lives and aspirations coupled with the intimacy of the small theatre setting instils a sense of empathy with the characters and their losses.