PMD Reviews

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Nachtland at the Young Vic (March 24)

March 12, 20244 min read

Nachtland: Nihilistic surrealism or much needed satire.” Frankie Roberts

As you walk into the stage at the Young Vic you are met with four people, clearing a stage of old tat. Looming over them is a broken down, mouldy wall of a house held up by scaffolding. This intriguing and ingenious stage design by Anna Fleischle casts a shadow over the cast throughout the play, like a dark past not quite forgotten.


I had purposefully gone into the show blind as to the content. Hence, I guessed this was a play about the relationships between siblings and in-laws as they scrabble over the possessions of a late parent. I could not have been more right but also more wrong. What comes to light is a play about the morals of making money from the fame of a mass murderer and war criminal and how even the most normal people can explain away morally questionable acts when seeking to make money. As the two couples soon discover a piece of art painted by Hitler, what ensues is a surreal and fantastical piece of satire. 


Written by Marius Von Mayenburg, and translated by Maja Zade, Nachtland is a German word for a place of eternal night. This seems a fitting description, as the play reaches new levels of darkness as it goes on. Arguments of, ‘separating the art from the artist’ and ‘how Hitler was a vegetarian’ seem to hark to the current Conservative political starter pack of distraction techniques, saying anything to distract us from what is really happening. 

Three people in Nachland hold briefcase


As the play reaches it’s chaotic climax, each of the siblings, Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Nicola and John Heffernan as Phillip, become more and more depraved, abandoning their spouses in the process and doing anything to get the money including siding with Nazi sympathisers. Jenna Augen, as Judith, the only Jewish character of the play, stands as our moral compass, admonishing her husband Phillip and rest of the family for seeking to make money from the memory of a man who killed her ancestors. 


Angus Wright, as the eccentric Karl gives comic relief, building the pomp of his Nazi enthusiast character to clownish proportions. John Heffernan also creates a character we love to hate in Phillip, a blundering and selfish man. But really none of the characters are entirely likable, which seems to be the point, we are not meant to like these characters. Apart from Judith and Fabian, Nicola’s husband, played by Gunner Cauthery who is whisked away early in the show with tetanus never to be seen or mentioned again. Both spouses are entirely forgotten by their respective partners at the end of the play.


While the performances and production value were incredibly high, I often found myself uncomfortable. It felt like an old form of humour, to make Hitler jokes and frog march on stage. But potentially, this was the point, to cause the audience to feel uncomfortable with how quickly the moderate conservative characters explain away their scruples on benefiting from a work of Hitler, when they hear how much they may financially gain. 


For me, staging a play on the theme of genocide and who benefits from it in these times is incredibly tricky and should be handled with care and clarity.  The impact of Israel and Palestine on Judith’s arguments was brought up at one point, but so briefly, it was not clear what was being said. 


Surrealism was a large part of Patrick Marber’s direction. The narrative was frequently broken up by breaking of the fourth wall, mad movement pieces and even a singing number. At times, it felt like nihilism, let’s make light of a deep seated and dark issue for the sake of it. But potentially, Marber’s surreal direction in this aspect sought to highlight how ridiculous the Right really, as well as the madness brought on by potential wealth, which causes our characters to lose track of their moral compass.


Overall, this play does feel timely, with the horrors of the current political landscape it adds humour to the debate, at times uncomfortably so; but maybe we should feel uncomfortable at a time like this?'

3 Out of 5 Moons 🌕🌕🌕

NachtlandYoung VicPMD Reviews
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Frankie Roberts

Talented theatre maker and Applied Theatre practitioner.

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