Christopher Hampton’s Youth without God begins with one of those lines that instantly gets a chuckle for its apparent nod to contemporary events.
“Hello,” the Teacher (Alex Waldmann) nervously greets the audience. “So, the world seems to be spiralling towards disaster again, doesn’t it?”
Hampton’s play, based on the novel by Odon von Horvath, focuses however on darker times in the 20th Century. Set in a small German town in 1935, a grim chain of events is set in motion when the Teacher reprimands one of his students for making a racist comment in an essay. The boy’s father complains and the class turns against him.
Director Stephanie Mohr creates a very real sense of unease throughout this production, which moves the story from classroom to bar, and from mountain range to courtroom. Justin Nardella’s set design makes inventive use of blackboards to suggest the different locations. Starkly lit, it often feels like you are watching a black and white film.
The scenes where the Teacher joins his class on what appears to be a Hitler Youth camping trip are particularly well done. The boys sing a patriotic song at the audience – their eyes blazing with zeal – as they wear accordians as backpacks. It’s chilling stuff. The young actors, including Anna Munden as runaway girl Eva, are all excellent.
Waldmann’s Teacher is instantly likeable, yet politically naive. He soon finds out the dangers of telling the truth instead of being an unquestioning employee of the state. David Beames shines in multiple roles, including the Teacher’s unsupportive Headmaster, a wine-loving Priest, and a roguish character known as Julius Caesar.
This was my first visit to Notting Hill Gate’s Coronet Theatre. If this engaging production is anything to go by, it definitely won’t be my last.
Youth without God is at the Coronet Theatre until 19 October
Often it feels like you are watching a black and white film.
In one particularly chilling scene