Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Comedies always have to end with a wedding ...

On Saturday night we went to the newly reopened Théatre du Châtelard and saw Les Juifs by Gottfried Lessing. The production is the first time the play has been produced in French and it was interesting to see such a German play but in French. Our neighbours from the copropriété Hervé Loichemol and Anne Durand directed and acted in the lively and very carefully thought through production. It was good to be in the newly renovated theatre and to bump into folk we know there. How amazing to be able to walk to a first class theatre production less than five minutes from my front door.
I have never seen or read the play in German. Although it is a comedy, it is almost impossible to see it today without being struck by the tragic undertow of the story. The way that Jews are referred to in the play is of course heard by us today in the light of the holocaust that took place two hundred years after it was written, but also now in many other ways. Today you could hear similar things said about Muslims in most parts of Europe, and other parts of the so-called "civilised" world too.
There is a love story between two individuals which is cut short by the weight of society's deep prejudice. You can save a man's life, save his fortune, win his respect and his friendship. Yet because you belong to a despised religion you cannot marry his daughter. Generosity will not in this instance be repaid with anything other than shock and disdain. Lessing allows some crumbs of understanding to dawn amongst the characters. They appear to step away from some of their absolute anti-semitism, but only because of the extreme graciousness of the generous Jewish character - who is of course almost too good to be true. Comedies traditionally always end with a wedding and this play so very nearly does too. In the end though the young women curls up and weeps in incomprehension. The Jew walks away, lonely in his generosity. He has no other option.
Have we learnt the lessons? Did anyone learn Lessing's lesson?
Played for laughs it is a deeply serious story. It spoke to me of how deeply engrained and irrational our hatreds and prejudices are, how hard, impossible even it can be to leave them behind if society itself is not open enough to allow individuals that freedom.