Far from uniquely, brigades of Latvian soldiers joined with Nazi forces in World War Two, mainly on the Russian front. Uniquely, Latvia hasn't buried this memory, but chooses to think of those fighters as national heroes rather than National Socialists, with an annual holiday and march of veterans.
This particularly offends Latvia's large Russian population, though more for its anti-Russian implications than its Nazi associations.
The play opens with a Latvian Russian teenager preparing to join a protest against the march. Her generally apolitical father makes a statement for TV along the lines of 'They're just a bunch of tired old men. What harm can it do to let them have their little march?' but this is taken as pro-Nazi, and the family find themselves rejected by the Russian community and embraced by neo-Nazis.
Another writer might have played this as political satire, but Scherbak takes very seriously the effect on the family and the reflection of ongoing rifts in Latvian society, and he quite pointedly ends the play with things on their way to getting worse rather than better.
One can see the power and relevance of this play to a Latvian audience, but its value for us is less clear.
It is an interesting history and sociology lesson about a country that many of us would have difficulty finding on a map, and the story of a family torn apart by ideology should transcend specifics. But I'm afraid the distance between the 'them' of the play and us, and the learning curve we have to transcend to understand the situation, are too great to allow us to identify and really care.
Ruby Bentall nicely conveys the purity and passion of the girl's idealism, while Michael Nardone captures the confusion of a good man misunderstood.
But Ewan Hooper and Sam Kelly repeatedly steal the show as a pair of old soldiers who prove the father right by being as harmless and irrelevant now as they were back then, and that imbalance almost makes the play agree with the father rather than with Scherbak's darker vision..
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- Remembrance Day - Royal Court Upstairs 2011