Now This is Not the End Review – Arcola Theatre
In Rose Lewenstein’s terrific new play, the legacy of a painful past – variously repressed, remembered and forgotten – is explored through the experiences of three generations of women. Rosie is a student whose year abroad in Germany is stretching a little longer than anticipated due not only to a romance with an artist, Sebastian, but also to an indefinable “pull” that she feels towards the country. It emerges that that sense of connection has to do with her family’s past: her half-Jewish Grandmother, Eva, left Berlin for England as a teenager during the war. Eva has been cagey about her history, and her secretiveness is now exacerbated by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, Susan – Eva’s daughter and Rosie’s mother – has been searching for a tape on which Eva briefly opened up about her experiences in the war, a recording that Eva’s husband Arnold seems strangely eager to suppress.
Receiving its world premiere in the Arcola’s Studio 2, Lewenstein’s play proves a most absorbing and affecting experience. The opening scene between Rosie (Jasmine Blackborow) and Sebastian (excellent Daniel Donskoy) is slightly stiff, but the play subsequently finds its rhythm, moving elegantly and compellingly between past and present as perspectives and perceptions accrue.
At times, the play suggests a companion piece to Diane Samuels’s Kindertransport: a work that’s similarly concerned with memory and belonging in the context of women’s experience of the Holocaust. I found Now This is Not the End to be a stronger, more surprising piece, however: it’s less contrived and obvious in its intentions. Lewenstein sketches the central relationships adroitly, and while the recourse to cheap comic effects via Sebastian’s occasional linguistic slip-ups is questionable, the characterisation shows maturity in the fair and balanced treatment given to all the protagonists. The play’s themes aren’t unfamiliar but they’re perceptively explored, and the character dynamics feel natural throughout.
The writing is well served by Katie Lewis’s production, which is uncluttered and fluid, negotiating the play’s temporal transitions with absolute assurance, and the aid of Dan Jeffries’s sound design and Prema Mehta’s lighting. Fine performances help, too. Blackborow makes a lively, vivid impression as Rosie. Wendy Nottingham is simply tremendous, funny and moving, as the fretful, ever-anxious Susan. Bernard Lloyd epitomises gruffness as Arnold, a man nursing his own traumatic history.
Andrew Whipp, playing Susan’s partner Paul, has the most underwritten role, but maximises his opportunities as a reasonable man seeking refuge from familial strife in Sudoku. And Brigit Forsyth is beyond praise as Eva, charting the character’s decline with understated poignancy, dropping a couple of deeply disturbing revelations with chilling casualness, and beautifully articulating the central paradox of her generation’s experiences: “Everybody told us to forget about it. Now we’re all dying and everybody wants us to remember…” Highly recommended.
Now This Is Not the End runs at the Arcola until 27th June 2015.