Tag Archives: Dunbar

Lebensraum (Israel Horovitz)




Downstairs at the Maj

reviewed by Neville Cohn


It’s a preposterous notion, a gratuitous awarding of German citizenship with all rights and entitlements to six million Jews from around the world to somehow assuage the limitless grief and pain that the Holocaust caused. It is a thought-provoking “what if…….”

   photo: Belinda Dunbar



One of the nazis’ most odious policies was that of ‘lebensraum’, a ferociously violent and cruel colonisation of vast areas of conquered lands to enable the German people to have as much territory as needed for the expansion of the so-called master race. In putting this into practice, millions of innocents, primarily but not exclusively Jews, were butchered on an industrial scale.  


Three actors, portraying literally dozens of people, provide an absorbing theatre experience on this most unusual theme. I cannot readily recall a play that makes such extraordinary demands on its players, not least because the characters are of all ages and backgrounds coming from a wide range of countries necessitating the use of numbers of linguistic accents. And apart from the opening moments of the play when the German accent adopted was quite unconvincing, the players delivered impressively on this count through a lengthy work. True, there were some minor fluffs – but in the wider context, this gave an added dimension of reality to the proceedings.


All three actors – Vivienne Garrett, Brendan Hanson and Craig Williams – delivered remarkably credible impersonations of a daunting number of characters. On this level, the production was a tour de force.


I particularly admired the skill with which animated conversations between two people were held –  but featuring only a single actor. Craig Williams was impressive in this, with a rapid exchange of hats the only prop in a hugely skilled episode, an animated conversation between two people, courtesy of one actor. 


An American couple with a son take up the offer as does an outrageously camp gay pair from France. There’s also a very old Holocaust survivor living out his last days in a remote spot in Australia. He, too, turns up. He finds himself a job in Charlottenburg (whence he fled years earlier) as carer for a very old, bed-ridden and now-helpless former piano teacher, the very person who dobbed his family in to the Nazis because he and his siblings ‘wore pretty clothes’. He was the sole survivor. He exacts an unusual revenge.


Back to the Americans: the man of the house finds a place in the work force quickly as a wharfie – he’s a hard worker, impresses his boss and is soon offered a promotion. Then his boss gives him a supervisory role. There’s growing resentment from German-born workers as more hardworking Jews from abroad are welcomed to the country and given jobs. There are ugly scenes. As this happens, I dare say that the notion of a 21st-century revisiting of the Holocaust takes up a lot of wishful thinking  on the part of displaced German workers.


There’s also young love between a young American fellow with a German lass.


Horovitz’s play consist of many, often very brief, scenes that call for considerable skill on the part of the actors to ensure a smoothly unfolding play.  And that was gratifyingly apparent, so ensuring that the impact of the play as a whole was greater than the sum of its constituent scenes, directed with gratifying attention to detail by Lawrie Cullen-Tait.


Some Kind of Beautiful


James Brookes (director)

Downstairs at the Maj

His Majesty’s Theatre

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Until I attended a performance of Some Kind of Beautiful, I had thought of its author Belinda Dunbar exclusively in terms of her role as deputy general manager of His Majesty’s Theatre, a busy and efficient person in arts administration.


On a Saturday evening performance at Downstairs at the Maj, I encountered a very different incarnation of Dunbar: playwright.


Some Kind of Beautiful is a slice of life that has about it a refreshing sense of reality. Nothing jars in Act 1; its repartee had the ring of truth. It could all well have happened.


It’s not a scene of unalloyed domestic bliss. Initially, we hear Kate (Julia Jenkins) in a monologue mulling over what’s recently transpired. Paul, her partner, much loved, adored even, has succumbed to a particularly nasty cancer. She’s young, rather inexperienced and clearly devastated by the passing of an adored, fulfilling partner years her senior. The household, in the process of being dismantled, is a clutter of half-filled packing cartons – books, ornaments, a miscellany of domestic detritus.


Her meditation is abruptly and unexpectedly interrupted by the arrival of two women one of whom delivers a brutally frank revelation. Paul was still legally married to her at the time of his death, after an illness through which Kate had nursed him lovingly. As Barbara (Helen Searle) brings Kate cruelly up to date, speaking of some aspects of Paul that reveal him as a not entirely attractive person, we find that he hadn’t bothered, hadn’t cared – or simply ‘forgot’- to tell Kate about his married state.


He’d never bothered to dissolve the marriage formally and – a thoughtless man – he’d never updated a will drawn up years earlier in which the prime beneficiary is his charmless wife. And although they haven’t had anything to do with one another for years, the will is no less valid than on the day it was drawn up. Of course, there’s nothing in it for Kate who only came on the scene much later.


Bitterness and withering anger are widow Barbara’s close companions through most of Act 1.  Flinty, insensitive and full of anger, she holds forth with an unending stream of vindictiveness and like some beer-fuelled youth with a souped-up car, goes roaring through the lives of others causing terrible damage to innocent bystanders on the way.


In the midst of all this, her daughter, Destiny (Maree Cole), wise beyond her years – and certainly more rational and considerate than her incandescently angry mother – tries to ameliorate the bitterness of her hate. Sensing the injustice towards Julia, Maree tries to reason with her mother to give Julia (who is an innocent party) a break.


A secret, carefully kept for years, emerges with the force of a cyclone. Paul may have fathered Destiny but Barbara is not her biological mother but the offspring of another woman casually impregnated by Paul who, for all his attractiveness to women, is an arch-poep, an uber-idiot who probably thought as deeply about the consequences of his tomcat behaviour as having another tinny (probably paid for by someone else).


There are no weak links in this cast; each makes a thoroughly worthwhile contribution to the performance, no less so than in Act 2 where the writing tends to discursiveness and the narrative line, so sure and logical in Act 1, weakens.


Invisible to the audience behind his sheet music on the grand piano positioned to a corner on the stage, Tim Cunniffe is a discreet presence; the songs he has written for the actors fit seamlessly into the action. There is no jarring effect at all.