NEW STAGES: REVIEWS Isle of the Departed Man in the Moon, London

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The Independent Culture
Isle of the Departed

Man in the Moon, London

Unless you've been in a media-free bunker for the past month, the setting of may seem drearily familiar. It is April 1945. In Hitler's underground HQ, his entourage squabbles and skulks. The Fhrer is losing his marbles, the cat's among the pigeons, and the writer Primo Levi, perched above the stage in a kind of limbo, is trying to draw attention to the Holocaust.

In an act verging on the suicidal, the writers Christina Katic and James Woolf have taken on both Hitler and the Holocaust, somehow creating a play that's neither stale nor hokey. The script (the first commissioned by the theatre since it opened) is tight enough to withstand the odd infelicity (even a creaky - or extremely cheeky - "Damn this bloody war"), and the director, David Craik, marshals a preposterously large cast (19 actors) with never a hint of confused identity. We know how this story ends, and the sub-plots and fantasy sequences suffer for that knowledge. But the documentary elements are quite an achievement in themselves.

In a fine ensemble performance, Chris Matthews (the very spit of Hitler), stands out, effortlessly combining the avuncular and the maniacal; while, batting for the other side, Jo James's beautifully voiced Levi (he'd make a superlative God in a Mystery play) has a presence far in excess of his lines.

Adrian Turpin