While the West End’s line up may be packed with musicals, the Southwark Playhouse in south London has put on a powerful political play with a strong message from history.
A Bright Room Called Day is set in 1930s Berlin, where a group of friends in different ways agonise over and rebel against the rise of Nazism. And at times, some feel forced to accommodate to it.
Drawn together as artists, their backgrounds and daily experience slowly force them apart—both politically and geographically.
There is delight as the Communist Party (KPD) wins six million votes in 1932. But it quickly gives way to the realisation that the struggle against the Nazis requires personal sacrifice, even putting lives at risk.
Tony Kushner wrote the play during Ronald Reagan’s US presidency, largely as a warning against what he saw as political apathy. The allusions to the 1980s US are dispersed throughout the play, though some elements have been updated.
This means that narrator Zillah has difficulty in making clear if Reagan was as dangerous as Hitler, or whether right wing reaction was able to take hold because of apathy.
But the sharp dialogue and strong performances identify Hitler as no mere “right wing nutcase”. It roots the left’s tragic defeat in the ultra-leftism of the KPD leadership.
The play is less pricking the conscience, more stabbing at the heart of its audience. It’s full of constant reminders, not just about fascism’s horrors but the KPD’s political errors. It refused to build a united front, calling the Labour-type social democrats “social fascists”.
The arguments within the KPD about Stalin’s “turn” are revealed in comedic style, without losing their tragic implications. This balance lifts it from being a political treatise to a hugely enthralling and enjoyable play.
I left thinking about what Kushner said, that the 80,000 murdered Communists were a “heroic resistance that sends…a mandate to the present.”
Lessons for us all—perhaps the most immediate is the need for unity against fascism. It certainly warrants performances across Britain, so that its message reaches an even wider audience.