Saturday, May 06, 2006

A Bitter Kiss


Escaped work an hour early yesterday and spent the time in the sun on Richmond Green, reading my book and not watching the cricketers.

I was meeting the senior Hunt sister to see Tosca’s Kiss at the Orange Tree, Kenneth Jupp’s intriguing new play about journalist Rebecca West and her coverage of the Nuremberg trials. From the general press blurb I had anticipated more of a biographical drama about West herself, and this is what attracted me to the play in the first place – I only really knew of her as HG Wells' mistress and was eager to learn more about her – but instead it was more focused on the trial of Third Reich economist Hjalmar Schacht, one of only three to be acquitted for war crimes at Nuremberg.

It was an undeniabky interesting work, but was trying to do too much, I think, reducing its potential impact in the process. The details of West’s 10 year affair with Wells felt like afterthoughts that just clouded the play’s real narrative. The highlight, if you can call it that, was Schacht’s speech in his own defence - both chillingly persuasive and alarmingly prescient. The cast was very strong as well, particularly Steven Elder as US prosecutor Tom Morton, providing a powerful reminder of the obscene reality behind the political machinations.

Despite its flaws, it was genuinely thought-provoking theatre; I didn't exactly enjoy it in the obvious sense, but I certainly took a lot from it. However, on balance I still preferred the Orange Tree’s previous production, Larkin With Women. Oliver Ford Davies was magnificent as the deeply cynical and unarguably selfish poet. Yet what struck me most, I remember, was the perverse but rather comforting optimism in what it had to say about the enduring nature of love.

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