Odon von Horvath is probably only a household name at Christopher Hampton’s residence. The renowned playwright and translator clearly thinks that this should change. Having translated Von Horvath in the past and made him a character in his own play, Tales from the Vienna Woods, the Almeida now performs Hampton’s translation of a late work entitled Judgement Day.
The work is, on the face of things, a simple morality tale. An unhappy railway stationmaster, distracted for moment by a pretty girl, is the cause of a disastrous accident. Perjuring himself in court to escape punishment, the stationmaster becomes a local celebrity while his jealous wife, who states the truth, is made a pariah. Coming to terms with his deceit has further, deadly consequences.
With a large cast that includes a flirtatious girl, her dimwitted boyfriend, the dutiful stationmaster, the spurned wife and malicious old gossips, all living in a small village, we might feel we are approaching twee territory. However, these people have real passion and are portrayed realistically, so much so that even a supernatural presence in the final scene demands credence.
The script is fast moving and thought provoking. Miriam Buether’s clever revolving stage serves as both platform and railway line. Furthermore, the cast is uniformly superb. Notable is Laura Donnelly as Anna, the young girl confident in, and confused by, her sexual allure. Tom Georgeson is highly effective as her blustering and devoted father.
The moral dilemma in the play suffices, but those who wish to can get their teeth into the thornier issue of how the play fits into its historical context. Von Horvath fled Germany late in the day. Although not popular with authorities, he was around to observe National Socialism up until 1937. The station master’s obsession with following orders can easily be seen as a comment on a society the author saw as increasingly incapable of thinking for itself.
Until 17 October 2009
Photo by Keith Patterson
Written 13 September 2009 for The London Magazine