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The Lucky Ones
by Lizzie Loveridge

And perhaps you can explain this to me. I've never met a German whose father, or neighbour or teacher was involved in what you call "the full scale of the attrocities", or even knew about them. Don't you find this strange? I mean -- how was it done? With only a handful of participants and hardly anybody knowing.  
-- Leo

 The Lucky Ones
David Horovitch as Bruno Mosenthal and Anton Lesser as Leo Black
(Photo: Sheila Burnett)
Charlotte Eilenberg's first play is about the families of those Jewish children who left Hitler's Germany and came to Britain in the "kindertransport" scheme of the 1930s. In her play the repercussions of those displaced bear not just on that generation but on their children's generation. The adjective "lucky" in the title of the play The Lucky Ones has a certain irony as the children, although they were not sent to the death camps, were separated from their parents whom most never saw again. Eilenberg's skillful writing encompasses the strains of families, the tension between brother and brother in law, father and son. She has a gift for natural dialogue as she examines differing viewpoints about experiences of the Holocaust and the way forward. The inspiration for the play came when her 83 year old Jewish father, along with hundreds of others originally from Berlin, was invited to spend a week in Berlin in 2001 as a part of an attempt by the German government to express their regret for the Holocaust.

Set across three decades, The Lucky Ones tells the story of a country cottage on a piece of land bought by two refugees linked by marriage. In 1968, they are planning to sell the property and the purchaser is a German woman, Lisa Pendry (Kelly Hunter). Leo (Anton Lesser) wants to stipulate that she should apologise for the actions of the German people towards the Jews before he will agree to the sale. Bruno (David Horovitch) disagrees. Mrs Pendry leaves after a quarrel. The play moves to 1998 and the funeral of Leo where his estranged son Daniel (James Clyde) is delivering a speech about his father, with whom he had a stormy relationship and who he hasn't seen for ten years. After the funeral Bruno's widow (Margot Leicester), her daughter Beth (Miranda Foster) and Daniel gather and are interrupted by a visit from Lisa Pendry who wants to give them back the cottage. The final scene returns to 1978 to explain how Leo's request was met.

Daniel's edgy eulogy shocks as he is frank about the relationship he had with his father breaking the unwritten law that no-one says anything controversial at funerals. It is however a powerful moment in the play as Daniel embodies all the disaffection of a rebellious generation rejecting everything his father stood for which culminated in a (failed) marriage to an Arabic girl. His cousin Beth, on the other hand, is embracing new to her aspects of Jewish culture to pass on to her child. Lisa Pendry's conversion from unapologetic daughter of property developer who benefited from buying up Jewish homes cheaply, to one who is genuinely sorry, is moving enough to have made the hairs stand up on my arm.

Anton Lesser convinces as the passionately, fiery man who wants some evidence of German regret. David Horovitch is his more accepting brother in law who is as disturbed by his stiff leg as he is by the injustice of history. There are good background performances from the family women but only the daughter Beth voices strong opinions. I particularly liked James Clyde as Daniel, as volatile and angry as his father. Father and son are so alike in their passionate nature but sadly they fought. The final scene shows something of Leo's confusion about his relationship with his son in a touching portrayal by Lesser, as helpless to cement family ties as he is in tying his own bow tie. The sets have accurate saggy, garden furniture from the 1960s replaced by the white plastic chairs of the 1990s and the country cottage idyll contrasts with the busy suburban garden.

Charlotte Eilenberg has much which pleases in this involving debut play -- a sense of history, of people looking for a place to belong and some delightful detail like Leo's description of the button factory in Spandau, passed from generation to generation of his family. This serves as a reminder, not only in terms of what thousands of Jewish families lost, but also of what Germany lost in industry and culture in the madness that was the Third Reich.

The Lucky Ones
Written by Charlotte Eilenberg
Directed by Matthew Lloyd
Starring: Anton Lesser
With: Margot Leicester, David Horovitch, Michelle Newell, Kelly Hunter, James Clyde, Miranda Foster
Design: Dick Bird
Lighting Design: Robert Bryan
Sound design: Gregg R Fisher
Running time: Two hours forty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 18th May 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd April 2002 performance at the Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, London NW3
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