Theatre Review - Watch on the Rhine

SET in 1940 Washington DC, wealthy American matriarch Fanny Farrelly (Patricia Hodge) waits for her daughter Sara (Caitlin Fitzgerald) to return from Germany with her husband Kurt Muller (Mark Wasche) and three children. They haven’t seen each other for 20 years.

Fanny and her son David (Geoffrey Streatfeild) are shocked by Kurt’s scarred face, his broken hand, and their hungry children. We learn that Kurt works for the anti-fascist resistance and the family have spent much of their time in hiding.

Fanny’s house guest, Romanian count Teck de Brancovis (John Light), discovers Kurt is carrying a large sum of money and attempts to blackmail him. Kurt has to return to Germany to save a comrade and cannot risk being unmasked.

The United States was reluctant to enter the Second World War, and Lillian Hellman’s powerful drama (which premiered on Broadway in 1941) served as a wake-up call about the horror being unleashed by the Nazis and the plight of refugees fleeing Europe.

Ellen McDougall’s elegant production and Basia Binkowska’s cinematic framing (with a nod to the film adaptation starring Bette Davis and Paul Lukas) are impressive. Once the play shifts register – from drawing room drama to political thriller – the tension never lets up and its contemporary resonance becomes clear.

The performances are flawless. Watching Hodge is always a treat, German actor Wasche is unforgettable and Light’s treacherous turn (which could so easily have descended into melodrama) is utterly convincing. The child actors – Finley Glasgow, Tamar Laniado and Henry Hunt – are also excellent. Unmissable.

Until February 4

Originally published by Westminster Extra