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The Theatreguide.London Review

Duchess Theatre      Summer 2009

Ronald Harwood's new play is being performed in rep with his 1995 Taking Sides, both plays sharing a cast and both dealing with German musicians who seemingly collaborated with the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.

In this case it is composer Richard Strauss, imagined by Harwood and played by Michael Pennington as a political innocent, driven only by his love of music and his desire to be allowed to compose.

In 1931 he begins collaborating on an opera with the equally unworldly Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, leading to a deeply satisfying personal and professional relationship for both men.

Inevitably, however, the Nazi regime's desire to co-opt Strauss as their tame in-house composer (He's ordered to write the anthem for the 1936 Olympics) and their need to make Zweig a non-person forces both men to acknowledge reality and to make their separate concessions to it.

Where Taking Sides deals primarily with the moral issue of collaborating with - or at least not fighting against - evil, Collaboration is much less directly political, concerned with the personal story of two good, innocent, harmless men being buffeted about by a world they really have no place in.

As such, it is likely to be less intellectually stimulating than the other play, but more emotionally involving.

Michael Pennington plays Strauss as an older man aware he has a limited creative life remaining, almost overwhelmingly grateful to Zweig for the inspiration he engenders, while David Horovitch's Zweig is a shy, socially awkward man slowly drawn out of his shell by Strauss's effusive warmth.

Both characters are thoroughly attractive in their slightly nerdy way, leading us to really care about them and to share the playwright's regret that the world wouldn't just leave them alone.

Philip Franks directs with a subtlety appropriate to the play's gentle vision, and Isla Blair all but steals the show as Strauss's formidable wife.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Collaboration - Duchess Theatre 2009


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