Maya Arad Yasur’s play, getting its UK premiere in Richmond, follows a day in the life of an Israeli violinist – nine months pregnant – living in an apartment in a trendy district of Amsterdam. When a gas bill dating back to 1944 is mysteriously pushed under her door she goes about her daily routines across the city with a heightened awareness of her own Jewish identity and how she is perceived by others.
It’s a journey that also leads her to discover the dark history of the canal-side building in which she has made her home.
On an initially bare stage, four actors use a method of free-form storytelling to relate the thoughts and actions of the nameless protagonist and of other characters present and past.
The result is an engaging, but often disconcerting, experience. Sentences pass between the actors like batons in a relay race. There are a lot of repeated phrases. It sometimes feels like you’ve walked in on an acting workshop where the narrative is being made up on the spot.
Director Matthew Xia works his brilliant and energetic cast – Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz and Hara Yannas – hard. They rarely stop moving around the in-the-round space (except when they insist on a long pause after the word “genocide”).
The latter half of story introduces some solid scenery to the stage as story shifts back to events in Amsterdam in 1944.
All the way through the play a bell is used to interrupt the action so the cast can provide relevant context through a microphone at one corner of the stage. It’s a clever device that becomes irritating through overuse.
Amsterdam is a challenging work that makes its audience consider the horrors of the Holocaust through the prism of events in present day Europe.
This is Xia’s first production as artistic director of Actors Touring Company. What a bold way to start.
Amsterdam is at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond until 12 October. It will play at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in February 2020.