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THEATRE REVIEW - Our Class, National Theatre

The rise of social networking has brought back unpleasant memories of school for many users - it seems it will never again be possible to escape the schoolyard simply by growing up and moving on.
THEATRE REVIEW - Our Class, National Theatre
The rise of social networking has brought back unpleasant memories of school for many users. This very week The Guardian is carrying an article entitled: ‘Do you let a former bully be your friend on Facebook?’ It seems it will never again be possible to escape the schoolyard simply by growing up and moving on. Polish playwright Tadeusz Slobodzianek’s play Our Class, currently in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre, tracks the interwoven lives of 10 members of the same school class between 1925 and now. The coming of World War II and the occupation of Poland, first by the Soviets and later the Nazis, bring out the best and worst in the ten. Some show simple solidarity with their beleaguered Jewish fellow students and try to shield them while others take an active part in their extermination. Rape and murder are staged with horrifying simplicity and the climax of the first half is the herding of the Jewish people into a barn, which is covered in kerosene and burnt to the ground. The stage, a simple wooden rectangle littered with wooden chairs, takes up most of the Cottesloe’s floor space and the audience is in steep rakes on all four sides. The effect is unsettling: you are at once a class member, a victim in the burning barn and a passive but guilty member of the silent majority who never act to stop the horrors taking place only feet away from them. Slobodzianek relentlessly pursues the characters left alive in the second half and fate spares only one: the rabbi Abram who chose exile in America before the war broke out. He at least avoids any dilemmas over who to accept as a Facebook ‘friend’.

David Trennery

Sunday 11 October, 2009

About the author

David Trennery is a free-lance writer.