Pros: This is a well-constructed production, at times charming, at times heart-breaking.
Cons: Both acting and story become increasingly repetitive, interfering with the play’s ability to be at all memorable.
We are in a flat in Belsize Park in 1991. Books, art prints, classical sheet music, old-fashioned furniture and other bric-a-brac are scattered about, whilst Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor Opus 25 plays. Otto Huberman, a dotty old man who is obviously the flat’s sole inhabitant, listens intently to the music, until the shrilly ringing doorbell interrupts. The stranger who arrives is German carer and ex-aristocrat Charlotte, sent by Otto’s daughter to help him in the wake of a stroke. Otto, a Jewish man whose entire family died in the holocaust and who found refuge in what he considered the only sane haven in the chaos of Europe, England, does not want her anywhere near him, least of all living in his home and caring for him. Thus begins Anything That Flies, novelist Judith Burnley’s debut play and the second show in the Jermyn Street Theatre’s first season as a producing theatre after its relaunch by artistic director Tom Littler this June.
Clive Merrison as Otto gives a convincing if slightly repetitive performance. He seems to react to almost everything that happens with mumbling distrust, though that may be more the writing’s fault than his own. Merrison is known for portraying Sherlock Holmes on BBC Radio, having lent his voice to the part over 75 times. Joining him in this two-hander play is actress and singer Issy van Randwyck, who does her best to give Charlotte, or Lottie, an interesting emotional life, but wears too passive a face a lot of the time. True, the character gains depth as more and more of her backstory is revealed but, like Otto, the audience often struggles to believe the stories from her very unusual life. The design is pleasing – Emily Adamson and Neil Irish’s set is charmingly prop-laden and makes the audience feel like they’re sitting inside Otto’s living-room, whilst Elliot Griggs’s lighting is subtle and realistic, successfully indicating changes of scene.
The high production standard within a studio theatre as compact as the Jermyn Street makes one wish the play had the impact to live up to it. Though it deals with very serious themes, such as the impact of the holocaust on both Jewish and German people, life in the diaspora, the development of Germany following the war and, on top of that, what it means to be English, German or have any other identity, this play fails to have great impact overall. That is not to say that there aren’t intensely moving moments – Otto’s monologue about losing his sister Elise, for example, is truly heart-breaking – just that these moments do not linger long after one leaves the theatre.
Director: Alice Hamilton
Writer: Judith Burnley
Producer: Robert Workman
Box Office: 020 7287
Booking Link: http://www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk/show/anything-that-flies/
Booking Until: 20th November 2017