Whilst plays such as Decky Does A Bronco and The Second Amendment Club acknowledge the existence of moral complexities in their respective areas, Bernhard Schlink's novel – adapted for the stage by Chris Dolan, and shortly to be filmed by Anthony Minghella – holds such an awkward gaze unflinchingly. It does not simply recognise that there are knotty issues out there, but rigorously interrogates them and makes clear that sometimes the only choice is between different culpabilities.
In the 1950s fifteen-year-old schoolboy Michael is befriended then seduced by 36-year-old tram conductress Hanna Schmitz. Several years after she vanished from his life, Michael – by now a radical law student – encounters her again, on trial as having been an SS guard in a concentration camp, and is torn between his desire to see such wickedness punished and the knowledge that, although undoubtedly guilty in a moral sense, she cannot be guilty as charged. Decades later, as Hanna's release looms, Michael begins to correspond with her.
Three different Michaels onstage enact the various aspects of the character's relationship with Hanna, and debate among themselves matters of guilt, forgiveness, collaboration and sharing moral responsibility. A triptych of video screens behind the otherwise sparse stage provide changing backdrops and additional testimony. Leslie Finlay's production for Borderline Theatre Company (touring until October 7) is taut, demanding and vital.
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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