In Broken Glass Arthur Miller addresses the fate of Jews in Nazi Germany through the reactions of one New York Jewish family to the news of Kristallnacht in November 1938. Haunted by graphic news images coming out of Germany, Sylvia Gellburg takes to her bed, apparently paralysed, while her husband Phillip struggles to assimilate and ignore undercurrents of antisemitism he encounters as the only Jew working at a real estate company. Dr Harry Hyman is called to diagnose Sylvia’s affliction and the Gellburgs’ uneasy relationship fractures.
By any standards this revival marking the 80th anniversary of the violence against Jews during Kristallnacht is hugely impressive, perfectly cast and confidently directed by Richard Beecham. But when you factor in the sudden indisposition of Charlotte Emerson, who was to play Sylvia, just as previews were to begin, the prowess of the company and of Amy Marston in the role of Sylvia is nothing short of miraculous. With barely a week’s rehearsal Marston’s performance is both word and pitch perfect. The company have clearly rallied round her, working long hours to develop the play’s intricate web of relationships.
Simon Kenny’s visionary design is a wall of burnished mirrors revolving between Dr Hyman’s office and the Gellburg’s bedroom, dominated by their double bed, where Sylvia finds a refuge and a vantage point, yet is exposed and isolated. In a glass box above perches cellist Susie Blankfield, a visual icon playing Ed Lewis’s plangent score. Beecham’s clear, beautifully-paced direction lays bare Arthur Miller’s elegant construction – a series of nuanced duets, each revealing more about his characters, where they coincide or conflict and what drives them. His light directorial touch also reveals the humour in this most gripping of psychological dramas.
It’s perfectly cast, happily including Marston’s fragile, luminous Sylvia, on the receiving end of differing care and attention from anxious, sexually repressed husband Phillip, compellingly attractive Harry Hyman and loving sister Harriet. Michael Matus’s hunched body language perfectly externalises Phillip’s self-doubting, self-hating Jew, painfully uncomfortable in his skin. By contrast, Michael Higgs’ tall suave, loose-limbed Doctor is clearly equally at home perched on his own surgery desk and on his patient’s bed.
Phillip fares even worse in contrast with his boss, that other alpha male, Stanton Case. Equally tall Andrew Hall is unsettlingly convincing – confident, sporty, old-money upper class, insensitive in his casual antisemitism. Clara Francis’s Harriet is a perfect foil for her sensitive sister, an insular New Yorker, as unconcerned with events overtaking Jews in distant Europe as she’s concerned for her sister’s welfare. And Rebecca Lacey as Margaret Hyman is terrific, especially in the opening scene as Hyman’s bubbly, sexy wife (and receptionist) trying to put the resistant Phillip at ease. An eminently entertaining and informative watch. I highly recommend going before its short run comes to an end.
By Judi Herman
Photos by Richard Lakos – The Other Richard
Broken Glass runs until Saturday 24 March. 7.30pm, 2.30pm (various days, check website for details). £15-£24.50. Watford Palace Theatre, WD17 1JZ. https://watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk