Last week, I was unexpectedly invited by a friend to watch East of Berlin by Hannah Moscovitch, currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse. I must admit, I wasn't very familiar with the piece nor did I have much time to research what it was about beyond the synopsis. Sometimes the experiences you most enjoy are those which you know the minimum about in advance.
It is a three-character play and focusses primarily on the life of Rudi as he interchanges between narrator and active participant in scenes with the other characters. Rudi, played by the excellent Jordan McCurrach, recounts his childhood in Paraguay with his parents, along with other ex-pat war criminals and their children. He struggles to deal with the fact that his father was a Nazi who instead of being a regular soldier on the Eastern front as he initially thought, was in fact a scientist and doctor who conducted unsavoury experiments on Jews in concentration camps.
We learn how he discovers this family secret at the age of 17, the subsequent strains on his relationship with his father, and the evolving friendship with his schoolmate, Hermann. Rudi decides to elope to Germany, where he is helped financially by ODESSA, an international Nazi network set up to support former SS soldiers and their families escape capture and prosecution. Rudi discovers a talent for science at university and is encouraged to pursue medicine, a realisation which troubles him owing to his father's dark medical past. He later meets Sarah, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and embarks on a relationship with her which eventually comes to a head once she discovers his real identity.
I enjoyed the play and felt completely immersed in the story, partially due to the proximity you have with the actors who are at times only a few feet away. The script, though at times predictable, nicely developed Rudi as a complicated and layered character and I must admit, I didn't see the ending as it eventually played out coming.
East of Berlin is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse until next Saturday, 12th July. It's a play touching on heavy themes with well placed light-hearted moments and is definitely worth a watch!
© Time Out