This Beautiful Future (Jermyn Street Theatre)

Posted: August 21, 2021 in Theatre
Photo: Steve Gregson

Writer: Rita Kalnejais

Director: Chirolles Khalil

⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Two young people hide in a loft while an authoritarian regime controls the streets outside and a war rages all around. Rita Kalnejais’ play, first performed in 2017, is set in 1944, during the final days of the German occupation of France, but Kabul in 2021 keeps springing to mind. Contrasting the intimacy of human relationships with the epic nature of world history, the writer makes it clear that the title which she has given to the play is rich with irony.

Elodie is a French teenager, prone to bouts of epilepsy, but romantic and optimistic. She lives in Chartres, south-west of Paris, and while swimming at a lake, she meets Otto, a German soldier of similar age. He boasts of having been part of a firing squad and shapes his actions in accordance with “what Mister Hitler would do”. His beautiful future involves the formation of a pure Aryan race and he believes that his departure to take part in the inevitable conquest of England is imminent. He is unaware that the Normandy landings have already taken place.

Freddie Wise’s Otto is a naive, sensitive youth, contradicting the horrific catalogue of beliefs and deeds recounted in the play. We are always asked to pity Otto more than despise him and, seen here, the character demonstrates the ease with which ordinary people can be indoctrinated with evil. Elodie, played with wide-eyed innocence by Katie Eldred, is excited at setting off on a new adventure and she loves Otto, blind to what he tells her about himself. Taunting each other and having pillow fights, we see a couple of children on the cusp of sexual awakening and on the threshold of encountering the harsh realities of life.

Kalnejais’ 70-minute one-act play is a coming of age tale with many bitter twists. Some of the writing is too heavily laden with obvious symbolism, but there is an overriding sense of the powerlessness of individuals to live their private lives closeted from cataclysmic events unfolding in the wider world. Director Chirolles Khalil’s production is at its best in quiet scenes of tenderness between the teens, faring less well when moments of high drama are over emphasised.

Performed with great confidence throughout by Eldred and Wise, This Beautiful Future reminds us that the grand sweep of history hides many small, human stories and that the future rarely includes learning lessons from the past.

Performance date: 20 August 2021

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