Following the success of The Ugly One, Marius von Mayenburg’s satirical tale of plastic surgery which first played at the Royal Court in 2007 before being revived in 2008, the German playwright returns to the Sloane Square venue with The Stone, staged as part of the Off The Wall series of plays about Germany.
Set over the course of 60 years, The Stone tells the story of life in one house caught up in the travails that have beset a nation.
Director Ramin Gray has all six characters constantly on stage as different stories and different times coil around each other like a nest of snakes: 1936, when a young German couple buys the house from its Jewish owners, is entwined with 1953, when the couple’s daughter discovers a significant stone; and 1978, when the German family, having left the house, return in search of memories, with 1993, when they once more own the property.
As the times and relationships skip backwards and forwards, the full story of the family’s life is exposed, laying bare the mythologies they have built up over the previous six decades, the life of the youngest generation built upon the fallacies of the eldest.
At the centre of the plot is Linda Bassett’s Witha, a young woman when the house is first bought, but an aging grandmother with a failing mind when it is regained. Switching between ages, Bassett brings both a light comic touch and a sense of gravity to the pivotal matriarch whose outlook, so carefully buried – metaphorically and physically – implicitly passes onto her child, Helen Schlesinger’s domineering Heidrun.
In barely more than an hour Mayenburg’s play touches on the rise of the Nazis, the Second World War, the relationship between East and West Germany and the new freedom offered by the demolition of the wall, squeezing each enormous issue into a personal, human presence.
Johannes Schutz’s stark blue box set gives away little about the look of the house itself, furnished, as it is, with just a couple of tables and a smattering of chairs. Yet the appearance of the house is not what matters here; the haunting of the stage by characters past and present reflects a country for which historical turmoil is never too far away, hanging around, waiting to jut into any conversation and make its protestations known once more.