Originally published on A Younger Theatre
Does your family history define you as a person, even though you’re not aware of the events that your predecessors lived through? Rosie (Jasmine Blackborow) is drawn to a city that her grandmother once had a connection with, feeling an inexplicable pull to somewhere that her own flesh and blood ran away from 60 years ago. Eva (Brigit Forsyth) was just a child when she escaped Nazi Germany during the war and has never returned. But Rosie has an affinity with the language and the culture, and has even moved to Berlin and fallen in love with Sebastien (Daniel Donskoy). Her mother Susan (Wendy Nottingham) can’t understand why, especially since she herself has never experienced the same feeling.
The concept of this production explores the idea of belonging and how people can live in a city but never really feel as though they can call it home. In this case, Eva (Forsyth) is never drawn back to Berlin, but seems to bear it no ill will either. Susan (Nottingham) shows an intrigue for the city and her mother’s heritage, but simultaneously a kind of jealousy where she can’t understand that part of her mother’s life. Rosie (Blackborow) has no logical connection to Berlin but feels a visceral pull to the place, as if her family’s past is calling her back there. “I’m starting to dream in German” captures the pull she feels when she has to break the news to her mother that she isn’t moving back home to England. The relationship with her mother carries a strained undercurrent because of this; Nottingham plays this air of paranoia convincingly. Blackborow also does well to antagonise these emotions as only a child can, switching effortlessly between an immature streak and a caring, concerned pity that her mother cannot share in the connection between herself and Eva (Forsyth).
An interesting aspect to this play, which is picked up on nicely through Katie Lewis’s direction, is how Susan (Nottingham) takes on the role of both parent and daughter in one scene at the same time. Nottingham exhibits concern and worry for her child (as only a parent could) whilst then quickly switching to more childlike qualities of suspicion and jealousy against her ageing mother’s current choice in a partner. Arnold (Bernard Lloyd) does well to stir up the situation, convincingly playing a stereotypical ‘grumpy old man’, although in this case with good reason given his undisclosed childhood in Nazi Germany. As the play concludes, the audience gets a glimpse that Susan’s irrational insecurities are not entirely unfounded. Throughout the play Susan appears to overreact, but the last couple of scenes really expose the reasons why Eva (Forsyth) hasn’t been the caring mother to Susan in the same way that she has been devoted to her grandchild Rosie.
Eva (Forsyth) is the most difficult part to play here, but Forsyth makes it look easy and effortless. As an ageing woman plagued by the onset of dementia, she has a superficial likeable quality that belies an underlying stoicism and apparent indifference. Listening to the story of her growing up in 1930s Berlin I get a sense of the life she has led, filled with pathos but matter-of-factly narrated as that generation are often prone to do. Eva seems devoid of love, but the way that the actor portrays the character leaves it obvious as to why – given her upbringing, how could anyone expect Eva to be able to feel the emotion that Susan craves? The same can be said of the overall play: it left me wanting more insight and more back story, but given the subject topic I was aware of the main issues that the writing conveys.
Now This Is Not The End is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 27 June. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.