(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/19.)

The timing is perfect. With Ukip eagerly endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit strategy and Donald Trump about to be inaugurated as US president, along comes a transfixing play by Roland Schimmelpfennig about the historic danger of extremism. Translated by David Tushingham, the play addresses specific German concerns; yet what gives it universal relevance is its portrait of liberal impotence in the face of unvanquished certitude.

The work is deeply radical in form: spoken dialogue is mixed with scene-setting and description of characters’ thoughts as if it were a mix of play, film and novel. Five people, in Ramin Gray’s superb Actors Touring Company production, sit round what might be a cluttered rehearsal-room table. We learn that it is Christmas Eve in a bourgeois, intellectual household. Albert, a writer, is engaged in a ferocious spat with Bettina, a film-maker, over the arrival of the latter’s mother, Corinna. But it is Corinna who sparks the dramatic crisis by inviting a man she met on the train, Rudolph, to stay with the family. Rudolph is urbane, civilised, polite and entertains everyone by playing Chopin and Bach on the piano, but when he reveals that he is a doctor with Paraguayan connections, we realise that he is the silken embodiment of a past Germany has long thought buried.

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Photo: Deutsches Theater Berlin

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