Went to the National last night to see Michael Frayn's Afterlife. It hasn't been reviewed kindly.
Michal Blakemore, who'd so brilliantly given shape to Frayn's Copenhagen, directed, and Roger Allam, who was outstanding as Willy Brandt in Frayn's Democracy, took the lead role as another charismatic force, Jewish Impresario Max Reinhardt. So on paper it was a bit of collaborative dream ticket
But something is wrong with the work. It just might be too clever for its own good, so many thoughts and ideas overlying themselves that it kind of ate itself and ended up being rather... dare I say it... dull?
On one level it's an experiment in biography - a kind of theatrical Flaubert's parrott -with Frayn taking the structure of the morality play Everyman (directed every summer throughout the twenties and early thirties by Reinhardt on the steps of Salzburg cathedral) to tell the joint story of Reinhardt's life and the rise of the Nazis. So from scene one its clear that the Poor Neighbour, rejected by Everyman will eventually become an SS officer who will in turn transform into Death etc etc. But once you've entered into, and understood, the clever parallels there was little else to engage with.
The brilliance of Copenhagen was that form and content became seamless, so the two principal characters Bohr and Heisenberg moved around each other in the strict relationship of the atomic particles they were discussing. The complex morality of nuclear science was given a human form which twisted, reacted and collided. It was thrilling.
I wondered on the train home whether I'd just missed a similar academic approach - was the staging as close a reproduction to Reinhardt's own direction as possible. It felt dated, but maybe that was the point? Melodrama and gurning Nazis?
Somewhere in there is an interesting play about the relationship of our egos to our work, the director as dictator, which could draw out something new about the rise of both popular spectacle (9,000 per performance for Reinhardt's Everyman) and Facism (Many thousands more for the Nuremberg rallies.) I looked very hard, but could only see its outline.