A Bright Room Called Day
Time Out says
It’s 1932 in Berlin, and a group of Bright Young Things are standing on the edge of the precipice of disaster. They’re sympathisers with the German Communist Party, pining for a revolution; but as the left fails to find vital common ground, the right begins to coalesce in the shape of a swastika. It’s an agonising and terrible point in history, and though Tony Kushner’s 1985 play outlines it with eloquence, it’s attempt at contemporary relevance badly wounds and, ironically, dates it.
The central story of strong, careful Agnes (Alana Ramsey) and her circle of friends cushioned and weakened by opium, opulence and Weimar liberality is beautifully measured and performed here by a talented cast. Ramsey is particularly good: a firebrand who freezes in the headlights of the oncoming fascist juggernaut – she’s as understated as she is absolutely compelling. Through Agnes, Kushner compels us to believe in good intentions weakened or obliterated by the possibility of evil.
But in the alternate plot, which concerns Zillah (Charlotte Jacobs) – a late-20th century armchair revolutionary with a zany bone to pick with Ronald Reagan – Kushner tells us painfully little.
An appearance by the devil himself, played with madcap energy by Jonathan Leinmuller, raises the notion of a transmutable evil that infects the world – from Hitler to Reagan and Thatcher, from Thatcher to Cameron and from Reagan to Bush. But like a theatrical version of Godwin’s Law, once Hitler has been invoked, even the most potent examples of contemporary malice lose credibility.
Kushner was writing against just such ‘mature’ relativism, but in a production by Seb Harcombe that takes its time through seemingly innumerable fragmented scenes, this is a cry for revolutionary action that feels put in its place by the weight of history.