Treasure

David Kinski, in a new adaptation by Colin Chambers from a translation by Ludvig Lewisohn
Ashleigh Wheeler
Finborough Theatre, Earl’s Court

Olivia Bernstone Credit: Richard Lakos
Michael Gilbert and Andrew Young Credit: Richard Lakos
Olivia Bernstone and Fiz Marcus Credit: Richard Lakos

At the turn of the last century when Treasure was written, the Yiddish theatre was thriving amongst the Jewish community of the Russian Pale.

Subsequently, as they were persecuted and killed in numerous pogroms that prefigured the Holocaust, the art form spread further afield, at one point becoming popular in the United States.

Now, the language has all but disappeared, while the theatrical history is going the same way.

For that reason, Colin Chambers's new version, using today's sometimes slightly different language, is to be welcomed.

Treasure is from the same stable as Fiddler on the Roof, portraying a similar poor community somewhere on the far side of what would eventually become the Iron Curtain, although the story is more reminiscent of Gogolian satire.

It opens in the home of James Pearse as Chone, probably the first gravedigger to get a decent stage role since Hamlet's friends three centuries before.

He is a perennially angry man with an angrier wife, Fiz Marcus taking the role of Jachne-Braine. The couple seem to relish their collective suffering, one would wager neither remembering the last time that they smiled, let alone laughed.

For some reason this sour view of human existence is not handed down to their grown-up children.

Olivia Bernstone's Tille is a real beauty but even that is not enough collateral with which to hook a husband, since Chone can afford no dowry.

Her brother, Judke played by Sid Sagar, has a mental age of around eight but a good heart. He it is that transforms village life by finding a horde of gold coins, while burying his adored pet dog.

The ensuing family arguments are as nothing compared to the impact that the discovery has on the community when news leaks out.

Before then, Alice Malin's production peaks when sunny Tille takes most of the money and converts it into a worthy bridal trousseau, complete with a couple of diamond rings.

From that point on, a procession of townspeople rush through, each doing his or her best to point up the greed and hypocrisy that is probably inevitable when for folk sniff wealth beyond their wildest dreams and see no reason to share it.

This all becomes rather too farcical during a lengthy scene in which the local graveyard becomes the eastern equivalent to a Wild West gold prospectors' mine after a substantial find.

The modernised text is complemented by body language that is right up to date, rather devaluing Rebecca Brower's splendid wooden set and convincing period costumes.

It might have been interesting to see how Treasure would have worked played absolutely straight, while allowing the text and plotting to get their timeless laughs and make the equally timeless points about the damage that money can do both to those with it and those without.

Instead, the 2½ hours are characterised by overly expressive acting that borders on the hysterical and weakens the power of the underlying work.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher