Judgment Day

Published September 11, 2009

After 2008’s Laurence Olivier Award-winning God Of Carnage, playwright Christopher Hampton returns with his new translation of  Ödön von Horváth’s 1937 thriller Judgment Day.

Staged in the intimate Almeida theatre, Judgment Day centres on a small Austrian town that is thrust into tragedy when the diligent railway stationmaster Thomas Hudetz allows himself to be distracted by the immature and mischievous Anna, forgetting to change a signal and causing an express train to derail, killing 18. With only Anna witness to his split second lapse in attention, and with her misplaced flirtatiousness the direct cause of this, both Hudetz and Anna must decide the morality of their actions for themselves and whether the truth should ever be revealed.

Judgment Day is set during the rise of fascism and it is not only Hudetz and Anna who begin to question where judgment lies, as the small town residents begin their own witch hunt, determined to shame those that are to blame whilst giving their beloved stationmaster a hero’s homecoming, looking for guilt in all the wrong places. As Hudetz’s estranged and anxiety ridden wife bears the brunt of the town’s judgment, the brutality of the masses enables a horrific and ultimately tragic miscarriage of justice, as Anna begins to crumble under the realisation of her actions.

The characters change dramatically during the play, beginning as familiar, seemingly upstanding members of a close-knit community, but becoming cold and occasionally frightening in the light of crimes they may or may not have committed. Hudetz, clad always in his respectable uniform and cap, morphs from a quiet, reserved man, allegedly browbeaten by his wife who, as we are regularly reminded of by the town folk, is 13 years his senior, into a mad, broken shell of a person, no longer able to hold onto any sense of reality. Anna, in contrast, becomes more of a person, starting off as a butter-wouldn’t-melt troublemaker, but forced to grow up and judge herself and her past actions. All the while, everyone is at the mercy of the bullies and gossips in the town who will let no secrets lie.

Incredibly atmospheric and intense, Judgment Day ultimately becomes a ghost story – complete with fog-filled, shadowy evenings, echoed conversations and an unsettling Hitchcock-inspired soundtrack – as the past is shown to be impossible to run from, your ghosts waiting around every corner.

CM

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