Theatre review - Leopolstadt

Tom Stoppard’s epic drama follows three generations of a Viennese-Jewish family from 1899 to the mid-1950s. At the turn of the century, Vienna is a vibrant European city but there remain signs of the antisemitism that will explode in later years. Jews make up a tenth of the population and most reside in the Jewish quarter, Leopolstadt.

Hermann (Adrian Scarborough) is a successful businessman and a convert to Catholicism. Part of the educated class and upwardly mobile, Hermann and his extended family have moved to a more salubrious neighbourhood.

When the play opens, they are celebrating Christmas. Stoppard takes time to set up the family dynamics, their concerns and relationships. Hermann’s wife, Gretl (Faye Castelow), is having a passionate affair with a German soldier Fritz (Luke Thallon) – an act that will later save the family’s fortune in an unexpected twist.

Gretl’s portrait dominates Richard Hudson’s elegant drawing room as we follow the family’s fortunes after the First World War through to the terrifying moment when Nazi officers come knocking in order to requisition the family home and Hermann’s wealth.

Director Patrick Marber’s tableaux are striking. The second half of Leopolstadt focuses on the devastating consequence of the Holocaust and it’s impossible not to be moved. Some members of Hermann’s family escape. Most do not.

Central to the final scene (set in 1955) is the incomprehension of Leo (Luke Thallon) who, mirroring Stoppard’s experience, grew up in England, unaware of his family’s circumstances and Jewish heritage until much later in life.  Leo’s dawning realisation is spellbinding, his memories activated by a tiny scar on his hand. The rollcall of the dead by Rosa (Jenna Augen) in the play’s final moments is heartbreaking.

Stoppard has said this will probably be his final full-length play – he’s 82 and Leopolstadt took him four years to write. It’s an apt swansong to a remarkable career and highly recommended.

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UNTIL June 13

Orignally publised by Camden New Journal