Review – Remembrance Day, Royal Court

“What’s it about?” she asked.

Now if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the correct answer to this is never “I don’t know” so I had done my research and had a ready answer: “It’s about Latvia. And politics. Latvian politics.”

Turns out this wasn’t the right answer either.  Nor was “one hour forty minutes, no interval.” Suffice to say, we went into the Jerwood Upstairs to this preview performance* with low expectations.

And yet again the Royal Court confounded them. The play is about Latvia, and it is about politics, but it is also improbably fascinating. The story centres around the annual celebration by the Latvians who fought for Germany in World War II (the eponymous remembrance day) and the response to it by the victorious Russians who now live in the country, some of them for the second or third generation. The issues quickly become complex, with fascism, nationalism, pride and morality all vying for consideration and nothing seeming as straightforward as it should. Thankfully, directorplaywright Aleksey Scherbak provides us with compelling characters to work through the issues, who never become mouthpieces – the behaviour always feels human, rather than political.

Most interesting is Ruby Bentall as the young protagonist Anya.  She is superb, but hardly eclipses the excellent Michael Nardone as her pragmatic father or – my favourite performance of the evening – Iwan Rheon as her global-thinking brother. It would be unfair not to mention Ewan Hooper and Sam Kelly, who turn in very good performances as a pair of drunken old fascists – they’re funnier than that makes it sound – but really there aren’t any weak links in the cast here and if my flight weren’t about to board I’d mention everyone.

Direction from Michael Longhurst is snappy and sparse, making good use of a single space. We also owe him a vote of thanks for allowing the actors to use their own accents – geographic and linguistic continuity aside (we get Scottish, Irish, English and I don’t know what Iwan Rheon was doing), this makes for a much more entertaining and free-flowing evening than having everyone try to to some neutral geography.

Tom Scutt’s design works wonderfully – in particular, there is a truly brilliant and shocking lighting effect at one point for which the creative team (but in particular lighting designer David Holmes) deserve to go on your Christmas card list.

Good work, once again from the Court. Highly recommended.

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* Full disclaimer: This was a preview performance. I saw a performance before press night. Press night had not happened yet. It was before the press night. It was a preview performance. It was not complete. It may have changed. My view may now be invalid. It was a preview. Before the press night. Press night had not happened before I went to see this performance, it was in fact due to happen after I went to see this performance.  Sorry if it seems like I’m labouring the point, but it seems some people found this ambiguous in the past: to be absolutely clear, it was a preview.

So, before you make any life changing decisions based on this review, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself: “Stop: it’s not ready yet.”