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Saturday 27 August 2011

Broken Glass, Play by Arthur Miller, Tricycle Theatre, London, 4* out of 5

New York in November 1938. Philip and Sylvia Gellberg are a Jewish couple who have been married for more than 20 years and have one son. Philip works in Bank where he is the head of the mortgage department, dealing with foreclosures. Sylvia has become deeply interested in the news from Germany where Jews are being humiliated and mistreated. She has also suddenly been overcome by a mysterious illness which has paralysed her from the waist down.

Gellberg seeks help from Dr. Harry Hyman, a confident and competent general practitioner who suspects that Sylvia's paralysis is psychosomatic. In his youth Hyman was quite a ladies-man. He did part of his training in Heidelberg. Hyman's wife Margaret who also runs his practice is not Jewish. Even though Hyman is not a psychiatrist he believes that he may be able to help. Contrary to Gellberg, Hyman seems comfortable with his Jewish American identity and optimistic by nature, he believes that the Germans wont let Hitler go too far in his mistreatment of the Jews. And anyway the German problem is thousands of miles away from life in New York.

“Broken Glass” is named after the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) in Germany and Austria in November 1938 when synagogues burnt and Jews were attacked, humiliated and mistreated by Nazi gangs while being applauded by the local population. In this play, written in 1995 Arthur Miller skilfully weaves an intelligent plot at the intersection of international politics, Jewish identity, personal relationships and human psychology. There is plenty of drama and humour, too.

Iqbal Khan's excellent production is enhanced by the haunting specially written cello music underlines the tense atmosphere of the play with the ill defined yet ever present threat to Jews everywhere at the eve of World War II. The acting is of high quality throughout, with Tara Fitzgerald as Sylvia and Anthony Sher as Philip Gellberg giving outstanding performances.

This production of Broken Glass ran at the Tricycle last year. It has returned there for a short run (until 10 September 2011) before moving to the Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End starting 14 September 2011. Don't miss it.

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