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Vienna 1934 – Munich 1938 review at Ustinov Studio, Bath – ‘Vanessa Redgrave’s family reminiscences’

Vanessa Redgrave in Vienna 1934 – Munich 1938 at Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Nobby Clark
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Written and directed by, and starring, Vanessa Redgrave, Vienna 1934 – Munich 1938 stages diary entries, memoirs, poems and speeches by a host of connected artistic and political figures including the poet Stephen Spender, writer Thomas Mann, activist Muriel Gardiner and her own father Michael Redgrave – a web of friends, family and lovers who were entangled in the darkening political landscape of Europe in the 1930s.

There’s rich material here – a step-by-step guide to the military movements of the Abyssinian Crisis, a 20-minute speech on the moral bankruptcy of the Munich Agreement. But while the play has the ingredients of a decent BBC4 documentary, it’s not a riveting piece of theatre, and this is a problem when it runs to over two and a half hours.

Joined on stage by three actors – including Paul Hilton and Robert Boulter, her co-stars from The Inheritance – Redgrave sits in the corner, watching these unspooling recitals with held breath, almost mouthing along. She seems captivated, but more work needs to be done to make these scenes equally captivating for an audience, particularly as there’s a great deal of information for them to absorb. There’s a distinct lack of urgency to proceedings as the actors wander around Lee Newby’s white box set, pouring themselves whiskies or tickling the upright piano.

There are subtle nods to the  parallels between 1930s Europe and today’s political climate, but any real contemporary import is all but obscured by an air of contrivance. It feels as if the contents of a jumbled attic has been emptied out onto the stage: quick, someone fetch a duster – or a dramaturg.

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Vanessa Redgrave’s family reminiscences make for an evening of lacklustre theatre