Danger: Memory!, Jermyn Street Theatre, London
Friday 01 July 2011
In the 1950s, the zealous interrogators of the House Un-American Activities Committee used fear to incite an epidemic of forgetfulness. The idea that, with the rise of fascism in the Thirties, it was once quite possible for decent, liberal folk to be members of the Communist Party was wiped from the collective memory bank. Cue The Crucible.
Danger: Memory! is a double-bill of later Arthur Miller plays that dramatise the link between lost idealism and the psychology of recollection with a ruefully comic, tolerant humanity, on the one hand, and a searching moral intensity on the other. Not seen in London since their English premiere in the late 1980s, they have been revived by Ed Viney in productions that are beautifully attuned to the contrasting tones of each piece and that are enhanced by the distinctive intimacy of Jermyn Street Theatre.
David Burke and Anna Calder-Marshall (who are married in real life) offer a masterclass in how to make a double-act exquisitely funny and delicately poignant. In I Can't Remember Anything, they play Leo and Leonora, elderly New England friends who are bonded by love of her dead husband. They wrangle and irritate one another during the nightly ritual wherein she comes over and polishes off bottles of the whisky he's now foresworn. He's gruff, scruffy, clings to his communist ideals and believes that life as a phenomenon is sufficient cause for optimism. In Calder-Marshall's lovely performance, Leonora is a mercurial mix of the scattily distrait and the touchingly distressed. As the characters discuss their different takes on their forgetfulness, the actors superbly serve the script's beguiling blend of goofy comedy and Chekhovian melancholy and signal the rapport that underlies the cranky rowing.
You see affinities, too, between the investigating detective lieutenant (Roger Sloman) and Albert Kroll (Rolf Saxon), the father who, in Clara, cannot remember the name of the Puerto Rican lover of the eponymous daughter who has just been murdered. The play makes it a bit too lumpily explicit that the amnesia is self-protective – did the idealism Kroll has now renounced result in Clara's death. But Viney's well-cast production does absorbing justice to Miller's metaphysical thriller.
To 23 July (020 7287 2875)
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