Donmar Warehouse, London WC2
Opened 1 May, 2001

**** Intelligent, entertaining and long overdue a revival

Christopher Hampton's fictionalised look at German exiles in mid-twentieth century Tinseltown starts with a "what if...?"

Novelists like Kim Newman write a lot of "alternate histories", in which just one veent is changed and everything else flows from that. Here, Hungarian writer Ödön von Horváth does not die in a freak accident in Paris in the 1930s, but goes into exile in Hollywood, where he meets self-regarding novelist Thomas Mann, his elder brother Heinrich and the latter's desperate, alcoholic wife Nelly, and Bertolt Brecht, who subverts the drama itself by insisting that the scenes he's in are staged in a suitably alienating style.

Hampton has a lot of fun with his characters, but also makes trenchant points about exile, Nazism, American materialism and the rise of the McCarthyite witch-hunts. He even nods toward the movie Sunset Boulevard pre-echoing his own work on the book for Lloyd Webber's stage musical version.

Ben Daniels is consistently engaging as Horváth, speaking directly and without affectation to the audience. Phil Davis is nicely irksome as Brecht, Gawn Grainger and Richard Johnson turn in a fine pair of performances as the Mann brothers and Lizzie McInerny plays Nellywith a blunt northern accent. An unobtrusively multi-layered evening.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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