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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Glass Room
Hampstead Theatre Winter 2006

Suppose you set out to write a play about a Holocaust-denying revisionist historian and her lawyer. What sorts of cliches might you try to avoid?

Introducing her as a free-speech case to gain our sympathy and then shocking us with the nature of her case.

Making the lawyer Jewish.

Whole chunks of history and pseudo-history delivered in the disguise of conversation.

A scene in which he overwhelms her with documentary evidence of the gas chambers.

Giving the lawyer a very Jewish father.

Letting father tell son, evidently for the first time, that their family came from Germany, with all that entails.

An irrelevant subplot in which he meets-cute with a girl and they spend the first half of the play bickering to prove they're falling in love.

Having him notice and comment that she does something cute with her mouth when she's angry.

A physical fight with the girl that turns into a clinch and kiss.

Back with the historian, a scene in which he pushes and goads until she finally snaps and blurts out her anti-Semitic bile.

A gratuitous anti-Bush and anti-Blair attack, complete with pause for spontaneous audience applause (which doesn't come).

The lawyer saying 'I never felt Jewish until I met her.'

The revelation that the girl, introduced as a bimbo and airhead, is actually deep and wise.

These final lines of the play, between boy and girl:

HE: I don't know what to say.

SHE (wisely and warmly): Then don't say anything.

As you may have gathered, Ryan Craig's new play at the Hampstead hits every one of those, and not much beyond them. He wants to say something about the difficulty of finding the limits of free speech, but the playwright has so much trouble saying anything original in any form that is not hackneyed that little of his intention can survive.

He is not helped by the production. The four actors - no need to name - do exactly what director Anthony Clark tells them to do, which is usually to stand facing front rather than at each other and shout their speeches at us as if at a political rally.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Glass Room - Hampstead 2006