Friday, 27 November 2009

Our Class.

To the National to finally catch up with Our Class in the Cottesloe. Tadeusz Slobodzianek has written an incredibly important and powerful play.

Essentially it's a history of Poland in the twentieth century told by ten classmates - five Jewish and five Catholic - all born in 1918. At the heart of this collective memory is the 1941 massacre of 1,600 Jews at Jedwabne and the disputed blame for the atrocity. Was it Nazi forces or anti-communist Polish nationalists taking revenge for Jewish collaboration with the Bolsheviks? Using childhood songs, playground games, first person recollection and snatches of dialogue, fleeting and exquisitely handled so as never to to live in any more concrete a form than a memory, the ten children piece together a collage of pain, anger, recrimination and hard fought forgiveness. Their lives, loves and beliefs fatally intertwining with the grand narratives of history itself. The first half watches the classmates take sides, the second sees them look for reconciliation after the massacre - a search that carries the action through right into the twenty first century.

Played out on a bare wooden stage and ten school chairs the excellent ensemble playing and fast paced direction - crafted wonderfully by Bijan Sheibani - give little room for question or reflection and it's this sense of being caught up in the broad sweep of events that exhumes all sense of sentimentalism from a brilliant, but harrowing story.

One by one the classmates are murdered, converted, killed, commit suicide or die of illness and age, in Poland, Israel and America, profoundly affected, poisoned or liberated by the moments of cruelty or kindness inflicted on them by their peers. This is a heartbreaking and humane elegy for the most brutal loss of innocence. When it was over I wasn't the only member of the audience to leave quickly and in tears.

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