★ ★ ★ ★

Nachtland leaves you with more questions than answers.

Translated from the German play by leading young playwright Marius von Mayenburg, Patrick Marber brings this philosophical comedy to an English audience.

Nicola (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Philipp (John Heffernan), find a painting seemingly by Adolf Hitler in their recently deceased fathers’ attic. Nicola wants to sell it, Philipp wants to keep as a memento but his wife Judith (Jenna Augen), who is Jewish, wants it to be destroyed. The watercolour is deemed a “genuine Hitler” and is valued at 100k by expert Evamaria (Jane Horrocks). In attempt to make it more desirable for a buyer, the siblings concoct an elaborate backstory as to how they acquired it, shamelessly claiming proximity to Nazism. The play tackles the moral implications and showcases the questionable conversations that entail, introducing thought-provoking narratives to the audience.

Originally designed for a German audience, “Nachtland” seamlessly transitions to a British one. The translation captures the comedic essence with a satirical bluntness that resonates well, often in the form of sibling’s squabbles that humanise the characters. This humanisation facilities later shock as blatant remarks of antisemitism are made, and Judith is aggressively dismissed from conversation.

The set design, tailored for the Young Vic, employs minimal props and strategic lighting to create an environment indicative of the past. Stripped down walls and dirty floors give symbolism to what’s underneath when everything is exposed. What seem like loving relationships, falter. What seems like morality, can be tempted with money.

The play can be too confusing at times, not necessarily stemming from a convoluted plot but from the profound ideas and philosophical questions it raises. While the characters may appear underdeveloped, it prompts speculation – is there space for full character arcs amid the plethora of symbolism? The deliberate inclusion of seemingly trivial details hints at deeper meanings, challenging the audience to decipher them.

The cast features talented actors, with special mention to Angus Wright (Kahl) who embodies a Hitler-obsessed buyers’ creepiness, effortlessly. Jane Horrocks also captured this obsession well, portraying a worrying coldness to the character unphased by any moral implication.

The insidious nature of greed takes centre stage, reshaping seemingly rational individuals into beings consumed by avarice. Mayenburg cleverly comments on the current political landscape in Germany, as Neo-Nazism is on the rise.

A hint of the underlying chaos is in Fabian’s (Gunnar Cauthery) encounter with the painting, marked by a mere scratch from the nail of its frame, propelling him into a psychological whirlwind. This descent into a state of psychosis cleverly echoes Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, symbolically showing the darkness that we see with fascism.

The play adeptly captures the intricate dance between morality and the corrupting influence of greed, when faced with the legacy of Hitler. It becomes a cautionary tale about the potential erosion of one’s values when confronted with the darker aspects of human nature.

Perhaps the play overwhelms the audience with its intricacies. Whilst being insightful, it demands a lot of thought that can bring confusion or even frustration.

In this nuanced narrative, the play invites audiences to reflect on the profound implications of their own relationships with wealth, morality, and the echoes of history.


By Marius von Mayenburg
Translated by Maja Zade
Directed by Patrick Marber
Cast includes: Jenna Augen, Dorothea Myer-Bennett, John Heffernan
Venue: Young Vic
Until Saturday 20th April 2024
Running time: 1 hour 40 mins, no interval