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The Glass Room

Ryan Craig
Hampstead Theatre
(2006)

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A year ago, Ryan Craig was nominated for the Evening Standard Awards, Most Promising Playwright for What We Did to Weinstein at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Therefore, his new play, which appropriately in view of its Jewish-interest subject-matter receives its world premiere at Hampstead, was eagerly anticipated.

The Glass Room is a play about Holocaust denial, a big subject as one might expect from a founder Monsterist and thereby someone committed to ambitious themes.

It has as its central figure Elena, a female replica of David Irving played with great intensity by Sian Thomas. She is a delusional woman who believes that she can achieve immortality by spewing spurious history.

Her scenes are played out in a "safe house", where she is held while awaiting trial for a crime that under a newly enacted law could leave her in prison for seven years.

She attempts justify herself to her defending lawyer, the half-Jewish Myles played by Daniel Weyman, often far more like a prosecutor than a man who is supposed to be defending her. He is a desperately unappealing advocate who shuttles from stage right where he tussles with his client, across to the cosy living-room that he shares with his attractive, young landlady and lover if she had her way, Emma Cunniffe's Tara.

Rather like Australian playwright Van Badham, Ryan Craig has tried to mix the seriously political with light social drama. He proves that while he has many critical statements to make about Holocaust denial and its implications, when it comes to contemporary life and love in the North London of Mike Leigh's Two Thousand Years, he veers towards the themes of soap opera and has a tendency to trot out streams of clichés and jokes, too many of which miss their target, as a substitute for something deeper.

The only exception is in a brief scene after the interval, in which Myles' Jewish father, an otherwise comic male nurse, twangs at the heart strings with a desperate family tale from Krystalnacht. Fred Ridgeway does a fine job in this part, having been called in as a last-minute replacement.

The plotting also feels contrived. Far too often, when a change of subject or surprise is required, the writer employs one of a big team of Dei ex Machina, with doorbells and telephones seemingly programmed to go off in the nick of time and revelations appearing from leftfield.

Where The Glass Room, which is directed by Hampstead's Artistic Director Anthony Clark, is at its best is when Elena tries to expound the intellectual arguments of a historian who is wedded to a notion that she must surely know in her heart is wrong. She uses all of her training and intelligence for self-justification and up to a point seems likely to succeed.

However, the ideas that have formed the basis for a hundred page book are then destroyed by her priggish lawyer in a matter of seconds. At that point, Elena is left with the sole remaining argument that a country that engendered Bach and Beethoven, Goethe and Mann could not have perpetrated the horrors of the gas chambers and eventually, somewhat uncharacteristically, she turns into a rabidly ranting, racist anti-Semite,

This play must be regarded as a missed opportunity, since the underlying sentiments are absolutely right and this is a subject that fully deserves a detailed exploration on stage. However, in order to achieve that, it might have been better to cut out half of the play and provide Elena with representation from somebody who does not seem to be chosen from a legal-aid panel.

Ryan Craig does have talent and the ability to choose the most important topics. At the moment, he might well benefit from teaming up with a strong dramaturg, who could help him to create more rounded characters and, as a result, a much finer analysis of his subject.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher