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Tales from the Vienna Woods

Ödön von Horváth, in a new version by David Harrower
RNT Olivier
(2003)

Opera and theatre director Richard Jones generally manages to ensure that his productions look great. With the motifs of giant postcards wheeled on and off stage and side lighting, his Tales from the Vienna Woods is no exception. For this he has to thank an old collaborator, Nicky Gillibrand, for the design and a new one, Mike Gunning, for the lighting.

The postcards provide an appropriate setting for these snapshots of Viennese life in 1931 during a period when the economy was failing and, not necessarily by coincidence, the Nazis were coming to power.

His protagonists are based around a high street. The butcher (Darrell D'Silva) loves the toyshop owner's (Karl Johnson) daughter (Nicola Walker). She runs off with the wideboy lover (Joe Duttine) of the older tobacconist (Frances Barber), who in turn takes up Hitler Youth toyboy (Paul Chequer). Though this might sound like farce, it is comedy but should have a darker centre.

Relationships tend to be fleeting, with commitment rarely evident. Miss Walker's Marianne is the one person who is madly in love and she pays the ultimate price. This provides the play with a bittersweet ending but, while life in the Vienna Woods at a pivotal time is well protrayed, with Viennese music from a lederhosen clad band, something seems to be missing.

Tales from the Vienna Woods is a pleasant enough evening and benefits from its place as part of the very welcome Travelex £10 season. The actors perform well with Johnson and Miss Walker the pick. However, the narrative thread seems a little weak with a large cast and operatic feel but neither deep political analysis nor enough engagement with many of the characters.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher