Remembrance Day

Published March 24, 2011

If the title of this play is conjuring images of poppies, silences and a general respect for lives laid down that we might be free, think again, for Aleksey Scherbak’s play is set in Latvia where everything is a touch more controversial.

Their remembrance day, 16 March, celebrates the Second World War efforts of the Latvian Legionaries, who fought for Hitler’s army against the Russians. While the veterans celebrate their achievements – not necessarily in the cause of fascism, but instead fighting for freedom – others, among them Russians now living in Latvia, see their revelling in glory as an insult and incitement to keep open old and festering wounds.

In one corridor in a block of flats, the audience sees a snapshot of a country being torn in all directions. Veterans from both sides of the conflict live side by side, old resentments fuelling some, others living in the present. In one family, the youngest daughter, in her final year of school, is filled with hatred and angst from a war she cannot have known, her university student brother recognises a modern world where race and skin colour should be no issue, and their father, a quiet liberal man, just wants to live and let live. Unfortunately in expressing just that level-headed opinion, he opens the door to devastation.

This closeness of proximity and community is underlined by director Michael Longhurst’s decision to blur the boundaries between locations in his effective staging. Sofas, beds and tables mark out different rooms and areas with the help of some clever lighting by David Holmes. But characters uninvolved in scenes remain on stage, shrouded in semi-darkness, sitting, moving, even eating next to those who are part of the action.

In the pivotal role of daughter Anya, Ruby Bentall proves there is more to her than Lark Rise To Candleford’s dithering maid Minnie. She has all the passion, all the determination and all the conviction of youth finding its feet. Spring Awakening graduate Iwan Rheon brings a casual air to brother Lyosha, yet it is the double act of Sam Kelly and Ewan Hooper, as Legionary veterans, who often steal the show with their bickering about the war and blustering tirades.

Among the familial drama, the Latvian history lesson and the wide variety of opinion all given equal and unbiased voice by Scherbak, the playwright holds back a sting, delivering a swift kick to the unmentionables of Latvian politicians. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that they are the only demographic he thinks is actually damaging his country.

MA

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