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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Stone
Royal Court Theatre February 2003

In the best tradition of domestic-political drama, Marius von Mayenburg's play (here in a translation by Maja Zade) tells a family story that has larger resonances. Its portrait of a German family - and, implicitly, of Germany itself - is unflattering and cautionary, and is marred only by a production that frequently gets in the way of its clarity.

At the play's centre is a house in eastern Germany. In the 1930s a German family bought it, at a knock-down price, from a Jewish couple hoping to leave the country. In the 1970s the buyers fled the Soviet bloc for the West, their home then given to others. In the 1990s they return to evict the tenants and reclaim the house.

So we have, in the course of the play, three families who feel the house is theirs and are resentful of having it taken from them.

Compounding the story is the central German family's complete rewriting and mythologising of their history - in their version, for example, they saved the Jewish couple by generously and bravely giving them money to escape.

The play jumps backwards and forwards in time with every scene, so that while the various claims to rightful possession of the house are being debated we are also encountering conflicting versions of history. Each assertion of the family myth in the present is followed by a flashback contradicting it, and each revelation of the truth is followed by a demonstration of how important and real the myth is in the present.

That Germany's 20th-century history has left almost every one of its constituencies feeling dispossessed and resentful, and that it continues to invent self-justifying myths rather than facing its dark past is a strong statement for a modern German playwright to make, and has power even for non-Germans. But it deserves a better production than this.

Since every short scene is set at a different time, with some characters appearing at different ages, knowing where we are in history at every point is essential. But director Ramin Gray has chosen to have the entire cast onstage at all times and to flow seamlessly from scene to scene, so that often the only clue that we have jumped back or ahead sixty years is that Character A, who was talking to B, is suddenly answered by C.

And while you are trying to catch on to the time shifts, it may well take quite a while to sort out just who is who - I spent some time thinking that the mythologising German family, who open the play pleased to have their 'stolen' home back, were the returning Jews.

Get it clear who's who and when's when, and the play has some powerful revelations and important things to say. But the production won't be offering you much help.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Stone - Royal Court 2009