Von Ribbentrop's Watch

Revelations at the family Passover dinner. £11.50 - £24.50
Oxford Playhouse, Thu 9th - Sat September 18th 2010

September 15, 2010
Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran are prolific, highly successful television comedy writers, and it shows.  Olivier award nominees, and authors of ‘Birds of a Feather’ and ‘The New Statesmen’, their comic timing was flawless, even if the themes of ‘Von Ribbentrop’s Watch’ were dark – even taboo.

The script of their new play given its world premiere at the Playhouse last night was slick, sparkling and foamed with a delicious froth, cascading down their well wrought comedy cup. Brigid Larmour’s excellent, assured cast, and tight ensemble direction ensured a  hugely enjoyable – yet provocative - evening.

‘Why is this night different from all other nights?’ Sasha Roth (Jessica Dickens) asks, reading from the Haggadah at her family’s first night of Passover dinner. Within that most family-centred holiday, cultural and familial bombshells explode. All are explored with wit and humour – and not a little soul searching, as family members react to each new revelation and rearrange their relations to one another.

Central to the debate is a complex ethical dilemma, particularly painful in a Jewish household, which cash-strapped wine merchant Gerald Roth (Nicholas Woodeson) first conceals, then reveals, then resolves. It is this: the watch given to him by his late father belonged to Hitler’s Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who according to Joseph Goebbels ‘bought his name, married his money, and swindled his way into office’.  As a spectral appearance by Von Ribbentop in the dining room asserts – Gerald and he may not be that different.

Because of its proven Nazi associations, the watch is now worth a great deal of money. Should he take advantage of this? His wonderfully sparky shiksa convert wife Ruth (the excellent Gwyneth Strong), and  Jewish mother Lila (superbly played by Barbara Young) vie for the moral high ground, while his brother David (the Bill’s Andrew Paul) regrets that he was left only cufflinks (‘not even worth twenty quid’).

The fact that writer Laurence Marks was faced with just such a dilemma, having unknowingly bought von Ribbentrop’s art deco watch in Los Angeles in 1985, gave rise to the play. Marks’ question to the audience: ‘what would you have done in my position?’ challenges us all.
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