Anything That Flies review at Jermyn Street Theatre, London – ‘exposition-heavy’
Director Alice Hamilton brings her characteristic light touch to this debut play by novelist Judith Burnley.
Hamilton’s previous work has embraced stillness, allowing the delicacy of work by playwrights including Robert Holman to really shine. Similarly, in this two-hander, there are long scenes where one character talks, the other listens, and neither moves. But Burnley’s play suffers from being exposed in this way.
That’s partly because Anything That Flies is very exposition-heavy. Each of the two characters readily offers long swathes of backstory but these histories do not add much depth. There’s aged German sound engineer Otto, whose family was killed in Buchenwald. He’s had a stroke and can no longer cope in his Belsize Park flat. His daughter sends a carer – another German expat called Lottie – to look after him. Despite his resistance to the idea, she moves in and they start to get along. It all happens unconvincingly quickly.
What Burnley captures, however, is the way that dreadful histories can linger far into old age. The trauma of Otto’s past haunts him. Clive Merrison’s pleasantly eccentric performance seizes on that: his Otto is cruel and lecherous as much as he is fearful, panicked and alone. He evokes pity as much as irritation.
Issy van Randwyck gives a gentle turn as Lottie, but her tolerance of Otto beggars belief. It’s difficult to accept that she would endure Otto’s abusive behaviour – not just constantly calling her a Nazi, but the groping and the general rudeness too.
Much of the play consists of short scenes that say little and go nowhere. Although full of little motifs – birds, betrayals, the Berlin Wall, the legacy of Second World War – none of them establishes itself and so the play never settles.