Watford Palace Theatre
Reviewed – 14th March 2018
“a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting”
One of Arthur Miller’s later plays, “Broken Glass”, written in 1994, is as rich and deeply moving as any of his earlier, better known works. Set in 1938, in the context of ‘Kristallnacht’ (the ‘night of broken glass’), it focuses on a Jewish couple living in New York and juxtaposes the personal breakdown of their marriage with the far-off effects of the anti-Jewish outbreaks in pre-war Germany in a challenging and painfully honest way.
Phillip and Sylvia Gellburg are living increasingly separate lives. Phillip is obsessed with getting ahead, in a real estate company where he is the only Jew. Sylvia is disturbed by the news of Kristallnacht from Germany. In a single night, the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, smashing windows and burning synagogues. Haunted by these images in the New York newspapers, she suffers a mysterious paralysis and is unable to move from the waist down. Diagnosed as a psychosomatic reaction by the popular and attractive Dr Harry Hyman, it soon becomes clear that the causes are somewhat more complex.
Michael Matus gives a quite stunning portrait of Phillip; a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Self-loathing and withdrawn he is constantly fighting the temptation to blame himself for his wife’s disability. Matus skilfully shows us how his own anxieties are just as crippling as his wife’s physical immobility. His guilt, coupled with sexual impotence, gives rise to frightening bouts of anger that, later on in the play, betray a tender vulnerability and need for forgiveness.
Amy Marston has to be applauded for her portrayal of the neglected wife. A late replacement to the cast, she conveys a sensitivity and sensuality that still manage to pack a punch. There is also a strong current of sexuality that is only aroused in the presence of the doctor: a relaxed, assured and natural performance from Michael Higgs. An outsider to the marriage he worms his way in nonetheless.
Simon Kenny’s translucent set adds an edgy claustrophobia to proceedings, and encased within the tarnished glass walls is cellist Susie Blankfield. Ed Lewis’ grief-laden score accentuates the production, adding a real emotive power.
“Broken Glass” is not a political play. The events surrounding ‘Kristallnacht’ are, in fact, reduced to a backdrop, but it is a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting – particularly in the second act when the couple confront each other’s raw emotions. The production is further heightened by an equally strong supporting cast who all tread carefully around the action as if walking on broken glass; towards an unforgettable finale that achingly lays bare the true nature of forgiveness.
I hope this show makes the transfer into town, but if not it is well worth venturing out to Watford to catch it while you can.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by The Other Richard
Watford Palace Theatre until 24th March