Rosenbaum's Rescue

Rating: 4

In 1943, more than 7,000 Jews living in Denmark managed to escape by boat across the water to Sweden from a country increasingly in the grip of Nazi domination. With the perspective of history, this entirely successful exodus seems little short of a miracle. But could there have been a more rational explanation involving German complicity?

In his new play, at north London’s enterprising Park Theatre, A. Bodin Saphir, whose own grandparents were helped to safety, pitches the two conflicting arguments head to head in the shape of David Bamber’s Abraham, an observant Jew and a proponent of divine intervention, and the altogether more pragmatic atheist historian, Lars (Neil McCaul). Both men were eight-year-old boys at the time of the incident.

Set in Abe’s Danish house, all blond wood and Ikea fixtures, the two men lock horns over their opposing views during a snowstorm that confines them indoors with Abe’s patient if long-suffering wife, Sara (Julia Swift), and Lars’s intellectually moralising daughter, Eva (Dorothea Myer-Bennett).

Unlike so many plays, Saphir doesn’t run out of ideas as the action progresses. Untypically, the play picks up speed and dramatic content after a safe, borderline pedestrian opening act. Nor is the playwright averse to chucking a few red herrings in the audience’s path: secrets come tumbling out of the closet about Abe and Sara’s son, about Eva’s choice of partner and so on.

In the safe hands of director Kate Fahy, we follow the increasingly convoluted plot. She is served well by her actors. The querulous old fusspot Abe is brought believably to life in Bamber’s performance and serves as a nice counterpoint to McCaul’s altogether more bullish Lars.

And the women are much more than mere appendages. You utterly invest in Abe and Sara’s bickering, loving, long-running marriage but then, as it turns out, Julia Swift and David Bamber are real-life husband and wife and have been for 36 years. Dorothea Myer-Bennett, meanwhile, brings real heft to the role of Eva, a challenging blend of cynicism and mordant wit.

The suggested resolution via a convenient old shoebox of relevant papers is a touch clunky. But the action by that point has picked up sufficient speed and you need to know more. And there’s a very interesting, impassioned speech along the way in which Sara wonders aloud whether today’s anti-immigrant Danish government would demonstrate the same compassion to its minority Muslim population as was demonstrated in 1943 to its endangered Jews.

At the Park Theatre, London N4, until 9 February: 020-7870 6876, www.parktheatre.co.uk

 

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