Nachtland ★★★★★ Young Vic | Feb 20 - Apr 20, 2024

Things start simply enough. A brother, a sister and their spouses are clearing out the house of their deceased father when they come upon a painting. Might it have some value? From this relatively basic premise, playwright Marius von Mayenburg spins a Swiftian satire that has a myriad of targets: basic human greed, the values of the art market, the cult of celebrity, the enduring appeal of the political far right and even the incest theme in Norse mythology. Along the way the play raises some knotty questions about all of these issues, while also challenging its own theatrical premises with some wonderfully surreal moments. Von Mayenburg's characters are instantly recognisable, the quarrelsome siblings, the long-suffering spouses, the icicle of an art dealer and the wealthy neo-Nazi, and the author squeezes lots of humour from them. However, his trenchant dialogue questions everything, including the audience's own easy presumptions about subjects as wide-ranging as history, art and contemporary politics. Nothing is off limit and the withering observations have no holds barred. The work is nicely staged by Patrick Marber, and the opening with the principals picking through the remnants of the past perfectly sets the tone for the piece. As the siblings, Philipp and Nicola, John Heffernan and Dorothea Myer-Bennett beautifully deliver the barbs and indulge in the bickering that defines the relationship between the spineless liberal and the overbearing opportunist. As the spouses who are infected by this debilitating interplay, Jenna Augen and Gunnar Cauthery also ring completely true. Augen as Philipp's Jewish wife who objects to the sale of the painting and will go to any lengths to see the work destroyed puts in a particularly forceful performance. Jane Horrocks as the venal art dealer, and Angus Wright as the dubious art collector, are pitch perfect as the intended caricatures of their ilk. Nachtland is theatre at its best, doing what can only be done in this medium.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo © Ellie Kurttz

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