Exactly three years ago, the Arcola's main house played host to a ferociously good production of 'Innocence', German playwright Dea Loher's howling, hallucinatory epic about the decline of the West.
'Olga's Room', from 1992, was Loher's first play, and though both it and 'Innocence' share an English translator – namely David Tushingham – this is, in most other respects, a very different production.
The play imagines the last months in the life of Olga Benário, a German-Brazilian communist militant who was captured, while pregnant, in Vargas's Brazil and shipped back to Germany, where she died in a concentration camp in 1942.
Bethan Clark gives a quietly compelling performance as a donnish Olga, able to disengage herself from and even see the funny side of the madness around her, right up until the very end when the birth of her daughter finally puts a chink in her armour.
But while it's a good performance, I'm not sure it's the right performance in this production: director Samuel Miller opts for a straight up naturalistic tone, which feels completely at odds with Loher's writing. Her Olga is a puckish postmodern creation who is aware of her own literariness and the myths that have grown up about her in the half century after her death, which she freely refers to. But this doesn't always come through in Clark's low-key perfomance, while elsewhere Miller's dour production trundles over almost all the bleak whimsy of Loher's script. An over-earnest two hours in the gloom.
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