The Duchess Theatre is currently showing two plays by Ronald Harwood, one revival and a new play, both on the theme of German musicians accused of collaborating with the Nazis. I opted to go just to one, and went for the new play, Collaboration. The title has a double meaning; it is, of course, about the fact that Richard Strauss was commissioned to work for the Nazis (although apparently he was quickly rehabilitated everywhere else, in Germany itself he was still viewed with suspicion after the war.) But more central is an artistic collaboration, with the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, with whom he wrote an opera at the same time as Hitler was gaining power. Harwood is sympathetic to Strauss, showing him having great affection for his Jewish friend and clinging on to every last chance of being able to continue working with him, even as the Nazis threaten him. Eventually it's the fact that they make specific threats against his Jewish daughter-in-law and grandchildren that makes him drop his public antagonism towards the party.
Michael Pennington is good as Strauss although he edges a bit into melodrama at times. Overall I preferred David Horovitch who gives a very moving and dignified air to Zweig. The play itself is interesting, although it does end on a couple of unnecessary cheap shots (Pennington asks the audience "what would you do?" as if we hadn't already figured out what an impossible moral dilemma Strauss had been placed in.) Philip Franks' production also contains something that's mercifully becoming less prevalent: An interval that serves no apparent purpose other than to sell drinks and ice-creams. Without it, the performance would have run at only 100 minutes, not an impossible time to sit through by any means, and as there's no obvious act break the timing seems pretty arbitrary, and only serves to take away from the action's impetus. Luckily the actors manage to restore this when they return, and overall it's a thought-provoking if not revolutionary piece, with a nicely developed central relationship.
Collaboration by Ronald Harwood is booking until the 29th of August at the Duchess Theatre.