Who Do We Think We Are?

October 2014 directed by Sue Lefton. Southwark Playhouse

@ John Haynes

Southwark Playhouse

Sonja Linden’s Who Do We Think We Are? by Visible Ensemble, a company of international older actors , is a clever spin-off of the popular tv series.

A journey of discovery, it’s also a moving testimony to 100 years of history from the outbreak of the First World as lived by the parents, grand-parents and great grand parents of the ten cast members.

What stories they have to tell. Here you will find soldiers in the Austro-Hungarian army consigned to Siberia as POWs; Ann Firbank’s Indian Raj upbringing, Romania under Ceausescu and one of the most harrowing, Ruth Posner’s escape from the Warsaw Ghetto.

There is also film star Jack Hawkins’ illicit love affair in the Far East in World War Two, as told by his son Andrew, Togo Igawa’s Japanese parents surviving the atomic bomb in Nagasaki and Norma Cohen’s exuberant Liverpuddlian communist background with her own `revolution’ in London’s `swinging’ Sixties.

It’s a beautifully crafted tapestry of moments by movement and theatre director Sue Lefton with Linden in which a glance, a gesture can create a whole episode.

Personally, I’d liked to have seen more from the women’s perspectives. But the production still provides a terrific vindication of elderly expertise as well as insight into how people get caught up in Great Tides of History, almost by default.

Who Do We Think We Are? inevitably shows lives destroyed as well as survived (Posner’s being a case in point of the latter). There are moments of absolute treasurable gold dust, not least in Trevor Allan Davies’ as his grandfather returning to Canada from the trenches to dig a tiny grave for a comrade. Davies’ gentle moulding of a handful of dust is a thing of sheer beauty – as well as his later glorious rendition of `Let the Sun Shine In’, the anthem of love from Hair!

Jasmina Daniel, a Persian ambassador’s daughter’s breath-taking ride on a giant manta ray, too is wonderfully evoked by the company, in contrast to her description of her father’s simple funeral. His extraordinary life reduced to so little.

All in all, a thing of wonder and delight.

First published in Reviewsgate in Nov 2014