Donmar Theatre, London ****
Runs: 2hrs 20 mins incl 15 min interval
Review of perf seen July 1, 2019:
How fascinating to see David Greig’s Europe again twenty-five years on from its premiere. What was Greig thinking about, I wonder, when he first wrote Europe in 1994? – a landscape so far distant from our own in 2019 in terms of optimism in a play also now so prescient of the violence that immigration has unleashed on Europe reigniting the rise of neo fascism barely fifty years after the war that many must have thought had crushed it forever. But no, here we are again, in the midst of wave after wave of immigration from the African continent to European ports triggering a mighty shift of the political tectonic plates.
Greig’s Europe initially sits oddly in the rancid atmosphere that has developed in the twenty years since its creation expressing as it does, a world where hope and decency may still be expected – at least as expressed by Kevork Malikyan’s Sava, an immigrant railwayman from some unspecified east European country (possibly the then collapsing Yugoslavia).
He talks of `dignity’ in the expectation of how he and his daughter will be treated as they wait, holed up on the floor of a derelict railway station for a train that will never come and a place that even now is being consigned to the sidings of history.
Greig’s Europe is indeed not so much a literal, academic dissertation on immigration and neo-fascism as a fascinating, almost tenderly indirect political metaphor on the imaginative juices that lie behind ideas of `home’, `identity’ and `nation’.
The ramshackle characters that Europe brings together include not only the above mentioned Sava and his daughter, Katia, but Ron Cook’s Fret who does indeed `fret’ over rules and regulations – an exemplar of the custodians of a rail system kept on track by lovers of its steel, signals and the trains themselves.
The empathy and friendship that develops between these two old timers is just one of the lovely pieces of symmetry that Greig brings to bear on a play that at the start seems too soft for its own good but ultimately and thanks to Michael Longhurst’s terrific, visceral debut production, as the Donmar’s new artistic director, packs a fierce climactic punch.
Paralleled beside Sava and Fret, Greig draws together Sava’s daughter Katia (Natalia Tena, tough and vulnerable) beside Faye Marsay’s Adele – a young wife already growing disillusioned with Billy Howle (of FatherMotherSon fame)’s Berlin – a recently unemployed steel worker.
Unemployment, a sense of displacement within one’s own country, alienation – Berlin and his `pals’, Horse (Theo Barklem-Biggs) and Stephen Wight’s Billy – emerge as nascent Alt-Right representatives, turning violent and anti-immigrant when the working conditions and the world they have known seems to be falling apart around them.
There is something of Büchner and early German expressionism/social realism in the scenes between Berlin and Adele – his inability to communicate, his increasing anger and frustration – with the inevitable consequence of violent recrimination against `the other’, whether it be foreigner, a `disobedient’ wife or Shane Zaza’s quizzical, entrepreneurial Morocco, once a friend of Billy, Horse and Berlin but in the tumult of economic down-turn and sexual provocation, ripe for targeting.
Brechtian echoes, indeed, lie over the whole production with its dissonant chorus and numbered scenic titles. Yet despite its cataclysmic finale, Europe also still finds time to endow even its worst offenders with a kind of humanity, a justification for their behaviour.
Ultimately Europe emerges as not just timely and relevant but a romance, a eulogy to the idea of Europe, to trains and the romance of where they take us, and a summary and microcosm of the state we presently find ourselves in. How might Greig have written Europe had he written it not in 1994 but today? What comes next…??? Enter Russell T Davies!
By David Greig
Morocco: Shane Zaza
Fret: Ron Cook
Berlin: Billy Howle
Adele: Faye Marsay
Katia: Natalia Tena
Sava: Kevork Malikyan
Horse: Theo Barklem-Biggs
Billy: Stephen Wight
Director: Michael Longhurst
Designer: Chloe Lamford
Lighting Designer: Tom Visser
Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Composer: Simon Slater
Movement Director: Imogen Knight
Fight Director: Bret Yount
Casting Director: Anna Cooper CDG
First perf of this production of Europe at the Donmar Warehouse June 20, 2019 and runs to Aug 10, 2019
Europe was first performed at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on Oct 21, 1994.
Review published on this site, July 2, 2019