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The Jewish Wife

Bertolt Brecht
James Menzies Kitchin Award
BAC
(2010)

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For over a decade now, the James Menzies Kitchin Award has been presented to the best young director each year. Many of its winners have gone on to shine. Thea Sharrock is now a firm West End favourite for productions like Equus and The Misanthrope, Joe Hill-Gibbins' marvellous revival of The Beauty Queen of Leenane opened earlier in the week, while Mark Rosenblatt and Bijan Sheibani have both had big successes.

The major reward for winning is an opportunity to stage a production at BAC. This year's winner, Matthew Evans, has chosen Bertolt Brecht's short, intense two-hander The Jewish Wife, most recently revived by Katie Mitchell in a translation by Martin Crimp for the Young Vic's Brecht Fest three years ago.

In keeping with the times, Evans and designer Moi Tran make use of the space and concentrate on atmosphere as much as textual analysis or work with the actors.

The hour-long performance starts in the building's ornate foyer as Kristin Hutchinson warms us up with a couple of Brechtian songs, accompanying herself on the piano.

The audience is then led up dark stairways past unsettling images and articles such as abandoned shoes into an over-heated playing area, via an ante room that could be a camp mock torture chamber.

In the main playing space, we initially listen to a Nazified workers' playtime on the wireless, inserted to allow examples of state-manufactured hypocrisy to bring out the black comedy of the era.

The audience surrounds the bedroom of the agonised Judith, played by Miss Hutchinson, who, it has to be said, looks far less Jewish than Mark Lockyer in the role of her non-Jewish doctor husband, Fritz.

There, we are initially treated to an eerie soundscape and the sight of a wealthy woman slowly packing her most valued belongings for the long journey to Amsterdam but more importantly a lengthy exile.

The measured realism changes gear as she rings a few friends to say goodbye but the tension only really hits us with the arrival of Fritz and his slowly-dawning acceptance of what is about to happen.

The play's real message lies not too far below the surface with the knowledge that Judith is one of the lucky ones, escaping from Nazi Germany while there is still time.

Matthew Evans has picked a short but demanding play to show off his talents and gets great support from Kristin Hutchinson, who takes centre stage almost throughout. Some of the pacing may be rather too pedestrian but the overall impact is powerful, helped by the great care that has gone into the staging.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher