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The Theatreguide.London Review

Tosca's Kiss
Orange Tree Theatre      Spring 2006

What you get in Kenneth Jupp's new work is a history lesson and some bitter reflections on political morality. What you don't get is a play.

Jupp's starting point is the historical fact that novelist Rebecca West attended and wrote about the Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946.

She was particularly affected by the case of Hjalmar Schacht, the financial wizard who engineered the international loans and investments that effectively financed the Third Reich.

Schacht was the only Nuremberg defendant to be acquitted, for the same reason Nazi rocket scientists were freed - the Allies needed his expertise in the Cold War

Along with West and Schacht, the play's cast includes the young American lawyer in charge of Schacht's prosecution and one of the American judges.

But, while Kenneth Jupp imagines personal encounters and personalities for them - West sleeps with one of the Americans while the other becomes obsessed with the concentration camps - none of them is ever more than an author's mechanical device.

A clumsy structure frames the play in a lecture by West, with the main action in flashback, and within that are other flashbacks as West dictates her accounts of the trial.

This reduces her almost entirely to a mouthpiece for the author, the reporting West providing narration and exposition and the lecturing West editorialising on the deeper meanings of it all.

It is West who several times explains the play's title - in Puccini's opera Tosca commits an impulsive act that guarantees the deaths of just about everyone, but it's romantic and heroic because she's being True To Herself (you can practically hear the capital letters in Jupp's dialogue).

West grudgingly sees this quality in Schacht but not in the realpolitik of his judges. (No, I don't quite follow that or see its relevance either.)

Meanwhile, the two Americans are stock stick figures, The Idealistic Young Man Doomed To Disillusionment and the Seeming Model of Probity With Feet of Clay.

No incidental touches of emotion or sexuality can make them any more than plot devices, while Schacht appears only in a couple of brief scenes of what are evidently verbatim courtroom dialogue.

Chances are that, like me, you had never heard of Schacht, and may well find it interesting and perhaps even angering to discover another Werner von Braun-like case of practicality temporising morality after World War II.

What you won't find here are rounded characters, realistic psychology, well-structured story-telling or dramatic tension in short, a play.

Given their wooden and dimensionless characters, the cast do remarkably fine jobs. Julia Watson makes West's intellect and emotions seem real, though never part of the same woman.

Steven Elder as the younger man and David Yelland as the elder work hard to make them into characters, and Charles Kay is impressively impassive in a couple of short appearances as Schacht.

Director Auriol Smith moves everyone around the in-the-round stage smoothly, but can't help the actors overcome the play's limitations.

(Oh - and I do have to mention one of my favourite lines of the year. 'My room is furnished identically to this,' says one character, thereby solving set designer Sam Dowson's problem when the scene changes.)

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Tosca's Kiss - Orange Tree  Theatre 2006


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