Vienna 1934 - Munich 1938

Written and directed by Vanessa Redgrave

Ustinov Studio

Theatre Royal Bath Summer Season

Runs until August 3

Anyone who is serious about the importance of democracy should see and hear this remarkable production.

It is the kind of event that reminds us how powerful a tool theatre can be in both informing and changing attitudes.

Vanessa Redgrave has used her family history, diaries, notebooks and photographs to illuminate a significant period of European history leading up to the Second World War.

The poet Stephen Spender was a close friend of her father Michael Redgrave and through his eyes and those of American Muriel Gardiner (or Elizabeth or Mary – the alternative names are explained in context) we witness the destruction of the socialist idyll in Vienna in 1934 by the fascists.

It is not so much as play as a series of dramatised episodes in the lives of the Redgraves and their friends but with a unifying theme. It begins as a cosy family reminiscence by Vanessa, who hands the Naval log book of her uncle Nicholas Kempson (brother of her mother, the actress Rachel Kempson), to the people in the front row of the audience to share.

We are thus drawn into the world of the Thirties and the people Vanessa called the ‘rock poets,’ Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, Wystan Auden and others, whose popularity she compared to that of the Beatles in the latter half of the twentieth century.

The insidious spread of fascism is seen through the eyes of the socialists and artists driven underground not only in Europe but also in Britain.

Robert Boulter, Lucy Doyle and Paul Hilton play all the other characters in the story. Paul Hilton is especially mesmerizing as the exiled German writer Thomas Mann in the finale, his 1938 speech in America following Neville Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler in Munich and the betrayal of Czechoslovakia.

What he said about the strategies of deceit practised by the political leaders of the time resonates down the decades and is worth repeating until we all listen and understand.

Jo Bayne