Any play produced in Oxford that is not in English gets the disadvantage of doubt. And not entirely unfairly. The brutal reality is that, when it comes to actors who can work in a language other than English, the pool of talent is a small, unprecious puddle. Far too many Latin plays have driven the audience to droop limply in their seats like crushed, lifeless frogs by the wayside.
The Oxford German Play may be a happy exception. Both cast and crew are thoughtful, thorough and, like acolytes at the altar, reverent of their script.
Loosely speaking, the play’s premise is this: Frank, his wife Claudia, and their son are about to move to Canada, at which point Frank’s first love, Romy, appears. She reminds him of a promise he made 24 years ago: that he would love Romy forever. A storyline too kitsch even for the worst soap operas, you might suspect. Yet what follows could not be further from predictable. One improbability after another somehow makes dramatic sense. Watching Die Frau von früher is like seeing an image miraculously formed out of five different puzzle sets: the combination is absurd, but structured, the picture passionate, but artificial.
The actors resemble puppets in their bearing, chess pieces in their roles. Johanna Hockmann makes a formidable queen out of Romy: impulsive, criss-crossing everywhere, the strongest will on the board. Sarina Agkatsev’s Claudia is an unsuspecting pawn: steady, trustworthy, yet ultimately a victim. Frank (Linus Schumacher) is the centre of the game, the king; his gravitas, however, does not show through dignity, but through the stubborn heaviness of his gait – he can only move one square at a time: he, just like his wife, is easy prey.
That much I could gather from two scenes (which was all that was offered to me in the preview), and the auspices are good, though I cannot guarantee how the whole production will turn out. It is the first original German play to be performed in Oxford for many years, so watch this space – it may be the beginning of a radiant tradition.
Die Frau von früher will run in the Burton Taylor Studio from 28th May to 1st June (Tuesday to Saturday of 6th Week) at 7.30pm. Tickets are available from £5.