Theatre Review - Address Unknown

I first came across ADDRESS UNKNOWN when it was aired as a radio 4 drama and was immediately transfixed. Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s 1938 book exposed the threat of Nazism and was subsequently banned in Germany. It’s since been translated into numerous languages, made into a film and is now considered a classic. Frank Dunlop’s stage adaptation opens Soho Theatre’s new Summer of Politics season.

It’s inspired programming by Steve Marmion to revive this terrific text and run two productions, one in French, the other English. (The French version is now over.)  The themes of prejudice, extreme ideology and revenge make the story just as relevant today as it was seventy-five years ago, and it is some measure of the novella’s power that it works brilliantly as literature, film, radio and theatre.

Set in the early 1930s, just as Hitler is coming to power, Max (Simon Kunz), a German Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco enjoys a lively correspondence with his friend and business partner, Martin (Jonathan Cullen), who has recently returned to Germany. Gradually, though, the tenor of Martin’s letters changes as he becomes increasingly seduced by Hitler and Nazi ideology. Meanwhile, Max fears for the safety of his younger sister, Griselle, who is an actress in Vienna, and asks his friend to help her. Martin refuses and attempts to break off all contact with Max. When Max learns of Martin’s cruel betrayal he decides to exact a terrible revenge.

The story unfolds through a series of letters and Marmion wisely keeps the staging simple. The men sit behind their desks on two separate rostrums. This illustrates their distance – both physically and emotionally – and allows the audience to fully engage with Kressmann Taylor’s text. ADDRESS UNKNOWN is about the power of words and how they can be used to defend and to hurt. It’s provocative drama, anchored by Cullen and Kunz’s superb performances.

Running at Soho Theatre until 27 July

Review originally published by Theatreworld