Canada’s hot, young playwright Hannah Moscovitch has won numerous awards for her edgy, thought-provoking shows and East of Berlin, now at Southwark Playhouse, is another strong example of her skill. Having already toured the international circuit to critical acclaim, the play at last makes a pit stop in London, and doesn’t disappoint.
The one-act play immediately draws in the audience with the chain-smoking main character Rudi (played by a stirring Jordan McCurrach) explaining his unorthodox life: after World War II ended, his family fled to Paraguay, courtesy of a German move/hire company specifically set up to help ex-Nazi leaders. Living amongst other German ex-pats, they partake in awkward traditions such as celebrating Hitler’s birthday at the local pub.
As a child, Rudi didn’t question such behaviour but when his close friend, whose father is also a former member of the Nazi regime, reveals the truth about why they are living in South America (with all the pleasantries to match – a beautiful house with a perfectly-manicured garden), his life is turned upside down. Having a father who supported the Third Reich is one thing, but a father who performed medical experiments on thousands of prisoners at Auschwitz is another entirely.
When he heads to Berlin to escape his father and confront his past, he meets Sarah, played by an emotional, if slightly over the top Jo Herbert, whose parents are Holocaust survivors. Their love-at-first-sight romance is soon put to the test when Rudi’s family legacy comes to light.
The gripping dilemma at the heart of the drama is one most would find hard to fathom. For Bettina Goering and her brother, the great-niece and nephew of Hitler’s designated successor Hermann Goering, sterilisation was the only answer to preventing the continuation of their family line. Heinrich Himmler’s great niece Katrin Himmler wrote a book titled The Himmler Brothers: A German Family History in an effort to ‘confront her past critically’, while Rainer Hoess chose to end all contact with his father who still faithfully supports the ideology of Rainer’s grandfather Rudolf Hoess, the first commandant of Auschwitz.
It is these complex, harrowing stories that inspired Moscovitch – along with London-based director Blythe Stewart – to produce a startling play complete with sharp performances. The simple, yet effective staging hints at buried secrets: a clandestine library and perverse father figure.
East of Berlin is at the Southwark Playhouse until Saturday July 12. The show runs approximately 90 minutes, and can be seen Wednesday through Saturdays at 8pm, and Saturdays at 3.30pm. Tickets are £18/ £16 concessions. A post-show discussion will take place on Wednesday July 2.