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The Man in The Attic

Photog by Blumenthal Photography

Shalom and Moira Blumenthal Productions present, THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, by Timothy Daly, at the Eternity Theatre, Burton St. Darlinghurst. 4 – 22 July.

THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, by Timothy Daly, is an Australian play having its Australian Premiere after showing in Europe, in Paris in 2012, in Avignon in 2013 and 2015, Italy in 2015 and Greece in 2017. The play won the Patrick White Playwrights Award in 2007.

Based on a true story, The Wife (Danielle King) and The Husband (Gus Murray) rescue and hide The Jew (Barry French) in their attic towards the end of the war in Germany. The Jew is an expert craftsman with jewellery (watches) and the couple put him to work, secretly, to create a service and goods for bartering that provides their food, survival, needs. The Neighbour (Colleen Cook), a war widow with strong ties to the Nazi machine suspects and blackmails The Wife and The Husband to enter the blackmarket with them. The war finishes and the three ‘hosts’ are reluctant to lose their ‘golden goose’ and hold The Jew kidnapped with the delusion that the war has not ended. More profit ensues from the American occupation.

Timothy Daly in the program notes answers a self-proposed question: Do we still need more plays about the Holocaust?:

The realities of hatred, racism and anti-semitism are still so strongly with us, both with the extreme-left and the extreme-right of politics, that far from being timid about such plays, we should announce them as vital and still much-needed because they attempt to answer urgent questions still pulsing through contemporary society.

The Director (and one of the Producers) Moira Blumenthal quotes the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Sitting in the Eternity Theatre with an audience that seemed to be made up, mostly, of Jewish friends, one could palpably feel the effect, the cultural importance, and the imperative for this audience to witness this play so as to be able, perhaps, to live their lives forward, by looking backwards at some other lives to which they are, possibly, tragically tied. The stillness, the quiet absorption of the telling of this tale was permeated with a kind of gentle melancholy. THE MAN IN THE ATTIC was being much appreciated.

Mr Daly found this story and with a very conventional structure and with sure pencil-thin strokes of characterisation, that because of their cliche familiarity, are easy to endow and imagine. The writing is straight forward narrative with little in-depth psychological motivations or ethical debate, that is mixed in with a ‘spiritual’ context of the contemplation of the universe of the heavens by one of the characters with a telescope, to give the play a kind of quasi profundity of contemplation.

Ms Blumenthal has with Costume and Set Designer, Hugh O’Connor, come up with a look that, supported (camouflaged), by the Lighting of Emma Lockhart-Wilson, allows the audience to enter the ‘conspiracy’ to create time and place – it is a very successful offer and makes the Eternity stage ‘work’ – which is not always the case with other productions we have seen in this space. Tegan Nichols makes conventional but sound Sound Design.

The performances are reliable and provide as much believability within the limitations of the writing style as possible. Gus Murray has a simple direct ease with The Husband’s venality and cold-hearted villainy, assisted by the typical Nazi zealot with greed and sex as the basic propellant for the choices of The Neighbour of Ms Cook – who manages, just, to not wring her hands or twirl the proverbial moustache, melodrama cliches, to signal her function in the play. Mr French, as The Jew, who virtually has to play without any support, as he is ‘locked’ in the attic by himself, gives a creditable, if sometimes a too much ‘romantic’ sentimentality colouring, to his fellow’s quandaries. Whilst Ms King digs into the pathos of The Wife, who becomes conflicted with the actions of her choices and provides some shallow glimpses into the questioning of the stability of her character’s moral compass.

THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, is a curiously simple construct of an old fashioned kind, but with this audience around one, it strikes a chord of remembrance and rings the alarums of the necessity of the need to be constantly vigilant about what freedoms and respect have been gained, for they could, easily, slip away again.