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Can you be a hero if you fought for Nazi Germany?
The Latvians who fought for the Third Reich and halted the Red Army parade as heroes every year through the streets of Riga. As a growing number of young Russians campaign to halt the ‘fascist’ march, their Latvian counterparts join the veterans in commemoration.
When teenager Anya becomes a political activist, her father’s attempts to calm the situation stir up a storm of extremist patriotism.
Remembrance Day takes an unflinching look at the fight for the political soul of Latvia.
Aleksey Scherbak lives in Latvia and is the author of 11 plays which have been performed in Belarus, Latvia, Russia and Sweden. He developed this play as part of Royal Court’s Moscow workshops in 2008 – 2009.
Director Michael Longhurst’s previous productions include Stovepipe for HighTide with the National Theatre and the Bush Theatre, On The Beach as part of The Contingency Plan at the Bush Theatre, dirty butterfly at the Young Vic, 1 in 5 as part of Daring Pairings at Hampstead Theatre. He was also assistant director on The Family Plays in the 2007 International Season at the Royal Court.
Running time 1hr 25mins no interval
Remembrance Day is presented as part of the International Playwrights Season: A Genesis Foundation Project
Journalist John Nathan visits Latvia to watch the Remembrance Day march with the playwright Aleksey Scherbak. Click here to read the full feature in The Independent.
£10 Monday tickets are available on the day of perf from 9am online, 10am in-person, and in advance to Friends and Supporters
Select a Date
Dates in March
|Fri 18 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available, Preview||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 19 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available, Preview||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Mon 21 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available, Preview||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Tue 22 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available, Preview||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Wed 23 Mar 2011||7:00pm||Press Night||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Thu 24 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Fri 25 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 26 Mar 2011||3:00pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 26 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Concessions Available||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Mon 28 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Tue 29 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Post-Show Talk||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Wed 30 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Thu 31 Mar 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
Dates in April
|Fri 1 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 2 Apr 2011||3:00pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 2 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Mon 4 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Tue 5 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Wed 6 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Thu 7 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Fri 8 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 9 Apr 2011||3:00pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 9 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Mon 11 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Tue 12 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Captioned Performance||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Wed 13 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Thu 14 Apr 2011||3:00pm||Concessions Available, Mid-Week Matinee||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Thu 14 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Fri 15 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 16 Apr 2011||3:00pm||Concessions Available, Saturday Matinees||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
|Sat 16 Apr 2011||7:45pm||Jerwood Theatre Upstairs|
Sold out Performances
£10 Monday tickets are available on the day of perf from 9am online, 10am in-person, and in advance to Friends and Supporters
Concessions £15 (avail. in advance until 26 March 2011 incl. and all mats. For all other perfs, avail. on a standby basis on the day)
School and HE Groups of 8+ £10 (avail. Tue–Fri and mats)
Access £12 (plus a companion at the same rate)
5 stars Paul Taylor, The Independent, Friday 25th March 2011
Watching Aleksey Scherbak’s extraordinarily powerful Remembrance Day, I kept thinking how deeply both Mikhail Bulgakov and Sean O’Casey would have appreciated its human and artistic qualities. Scherbak, like them, has the gift of showing how appalling tragedy and hapless comedy restively malinger in a perpetual, untidy coexistence, especially in societies that are corrosively divided.
The play’s simple, eloquent staging further intensifies the mixed moods of black humour, desolate pathos and dark foreboding in Michael Longhurst’s splendidly acted production. The play is set in a block of flats in the Latvian capital of Riga. Living cheek by jowl, though not on speaking terms, in stark apartments are figures who betoken the bitter legacy of the country’s contentious past. In the sharply paradoxical stage picture created here, it’s as though their separate living quarters have been superimposed on each other so that implacable foes and pained moderates drift around the one communal space, unwittingly sitting side by side at a kitchen table, and promiscuously arriving and departing through the same row of front doors on Tom Scutt’s uncluttered, vivid design.
The dramatic events are triggered by Latvian Legion Day, the annual procession through Riga of Nazi Waffen SS veterans and other native Latvians in commemoration of those who fought against the Soviets even if that meant getting into bed with Hitler. Preparing to join in her first anti-fascist demo is young Anya, whose unnerving zeal and the emotional hurt and confusion that underpin it are brilliantly communicated by Ruby Bentall. Her parents are ethnic Russian and, while accompanying her to keep her out of trouble, the girl’s father, Sasha (a movingly troubled Michael Nardone), gives an impromptu interview to a pro-Russian television channel and makes a plea for toleration, arguing that it is time “to end this uproar over these old men”. He’s falsely branded a Nazi sympathiser and it’s not long before swastikas are painted on their doors, his wife sacked, his daughter murderously alienated from him, and his apolitical son embroiled in street violence.
Written under the auspices of the Royal Court’s remarkable international department and robustly translated by Rory Mullarkey, Remembrance Day superbly complicates your sense of the intractability of the situation. There’s a gloriously tragicomic and O’Casey-esque double-act between an unrepentant nationalist veteran (Sam Kelly) and his more sensitive sidekick (Ewan Hooper) who points out that he has fought in four armies in the course of his life. It’s typical of the play’s wrong-footing myriad-mindedness that just when you tensely think it’s an assassin’s knock at Sasha’s door, it turns out to be the Kelly character paying a reluctant call to thank him for medical help. The play is, by turns, heartbreaking, beadily satiric and humorous.
Can we let go of old animosities without betraying the victims of past injustice? I don’t think the play straightforwardly endorses Sasha’s brooding tolerance. Certainly, it shows us how some unlovely young activists in Latvia keep the rifts open as a cynical career move.
Unreservedly recommended. 4 stars Maxie Szalwinska, The Times, Sunday 3rd April 2011
If the prospect of a play about Latvia overwhelms you with gloom, think again. This one has a sombre wit, and Michael Longhurst’s production is anything but a chore.
The playwright Aleksey Scherbak trains his sights on the annual march through Riga to commemorate the soldiers who fought against the Red Army as part of the Waffen-SS. Anya (Ruby Bentall), a newly politicised ethnic Russian teenager, is determined to take part in an anti-fascist demo on Latvian Legion Day. Her more passive father believes it’s time “to end this uproar over these old men”. When he says so in a television interview, he is branded a Nazi sympathiser. Scherbak’s characters include codgerly, vodka-gulping veterans bickering over the war, and he makes subtle judgments between extremes of praise and blame. His sourest contempt is for the cynical game-playing of political parties. 4 stars Libby Purves, The Times, Friday 25th March 2011
The rewards of small-scale theatre can be huge. You turn up in dutiful willingness to spend 90 minutes learning about contemporary social tensions in Riga, as seen by Aleksey Scherbak. What you get is a little masterpiece of power, wit, and heart relevant to everywhere, its bitter clarity echoing Sean O’Casey’s cry of “Time we had a little less respect for the dead, an’ a little more regard for the living!”
Every March 16, ethnic Latvians mark Legion Day, commemorating local soldiers of the Waffen SS and old men parade in uniform.
Nationalists use it to excoriate the many Russian speakers settled in their midst for generations, using the old men as symbols of resistance to the Soviets. In return the Russian Party marches under the banner of anti- fascism and the TV rants “Look at the faces of these soldiers. Maybe one torched villages and raped women.”
But old Valdis — who in the chaotic years perforce wore three uniforms including his Waffen SS one (though always the same boots) — is fragile now. So is his mate Paulis (who also committed no atrocities, but stood bored on guard duty and festered in a prison camp). Paulis, a comically absurd Sam Kelly, is a daft old bigot who says Russians drop litter. Valdis (Ewan Hooper, also excellent) would prefer to shrug it all off and play chess with neighbour Misha, a Soviet army veteran. Misha is idolised by his Russian Party extremist niece, the hysterical Anya. Yet when Paulis collapses and Anya — a medical student — turns her back spitting “They are not people!”, Misha lends his oxygen mask.
The complications are clearly laid out, the cast without accent or affectation. Anya’s father, played with heartbreaking decency by Michael Nardone, tries saying to the TV cameras “No need for uproar over these old men . . . they’re just like us, only they’ve seen much more hardship.” He gets pilloried as a fascist, his wife loses her job, Anya walks out to be a martyr. Her teenage brother — against cliché, it is not women pleading for reason but men — only wants to be modern. “The world’s changed, there are no borders, people live wherever it’s best to live. And that’s fine. It’s been fine for ages!”
It’s staged in the Court’s upstairs theatre with clever simplicity, one set serving for all three apartments: battered utility furniture, bread and sausage, an old TV.
Sometimes it is the Russian family’s home, sometimes Valdis’s or Misha’s: under Michael Longhurst’s clear direction each group uses the room, remaining still and darkened during the others’ scenes or weaving round one another unseeing, to sit invisible at the same table. More powerfully than any words, that expresses the absurdity of enmity between neighbours.Pure, brilliant theatre. 4 stars Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail, Friday 25th March 2011
Political hot-potato handled with care
Left-wing MPs sometimes attack the Conservatives for belonging to a broad alliance of European parties whose Latvian counterpart ‘supports the Nazis’.
The outfit in question identifies with the few remaining Latvian veterans who fought for Germany in World War II. Once a year, they have a parade.
Are they really a threat to Latvia’s many ethnic Russians? Or are they just elderly comrades out for a day with medals and vodka?
This is the territory of Aleksey Scherbak’s informative but too-compressed Remembrance Day. It is balanced, showing how on one level the veterans are doddery old boys who can barely cut a loaf, let alone aim a rifle these days.
Yet simply by marching and recalling their youth, are they stirring up Latvian nationalism? Does that in turn provoke Latvia’s ethnic Russians to extremism?
This production is neatly done. Three doors at the back of the stage lead into three flats in the same residence block. One is occupied by a Russian ex-sniper, one by a Latvian former German recruit and his outspoken friend.
The third flat belongs to a family whose father mistrusts politics and wishes everyone could forget World War II. He, inevitably, becomes the victim.
The playwright argues that political parties, on all sides, use history to justify grotty positions. We meet local agents from the nationalist and Russian sides. Both are young men who wear black and have the gift of the gab.
When they bump into one another, they greet each other cordially, like salesmen from rival firms. Sam Kelly and Ewan Hooper excel as the two former German soldiers.
Michael Nardone is the Russian father and Ruby Bentall plays his daughter as she wakes up to political activism. Hearing these Russian colonialists talk about Latvia, one feels they could almost be whites in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia.
If British MPs who sound off about Latvia saw this play, they might realise history was a little more complicated than they claim. Do I mean you, Denis MacShane? I do! 4 stars Jane Edwardes, Time Out, Tuesday 29th March 2011
Three adjoining flats are represented by a single space. It’s an apt image of invasion and ignorance for Aleksey Scherbak’s punchy, humane play about the tension between Latvians and Russians in modern Latvia
On Legion Day (which commemorates those who fought as part of the Waffen SS against Soviet Russia), two veterans of Hitler’s army, Paulis (Sam Kelly) and Valdis (Ewan Hooper), celebrate with vodka and sausage. Misha lives two doors down, a tough Soviet army veteran with a rifle in his cupboard. Sasha and his family symbolically and literally inhabit the flat in between: their number includes the fanatical would-be medic Anya, who is determined to demonstrate against the Legionaries and who refuses to help Paulis when he collapses. When Sasha makes some mild impromptu comments on TV about the need to forgive, he is branded a Nazi.
Although it is hard for us to catch every political nuance in a 70 minute play, Scherbak illuminates an intractable situation and possibly plays down the less attractive features of the marching Latvians (some of these people are the Tories’ controversial hardline allies in Europe).
Hostilities should die with the old codgers, but Scherbak pessimistically shows how even when the old are willing to let go, there is a new generation, like Anya, fired up and longing for martyrdom.
Michael Longhurst’s production is first rate and, once again, Elyse Dodgson’s excellent international department persuades us to see the world from a different perspective.
Michael Billington, The Guardian, 24th March 2011
How do we view the past? Do we forgive and forget, or keep alive ancient animosities? The questions may seem academic. But they are a living issue in Latvia where every 16 March veterans of the Waffen SS march through Riga, to celebrate not just national independence but the struggle against the occupying Soviet army in 1944.
With remarkable economy, the Ukrainian-born Scherbak offers us multiple perspectives on the march. His focus is on the generational split in one Russian family. Sasha, the patriarch, is opposed to his teenage daughter, Anya, joining the anti-march protesters; when he appears on the TV news arguing it is time to end “this uproar over these old men”, he is falsely branded a Nazi sympathiser. But Scherbak takes the argument further by showing us rival old-timers. One neighbour of Sasha’s is a Soviet army veteran, who keeps his sniper’s rifle in his wardrobe in case it is needed; another is a Latvian nationalist who defiantly marches in the parade.
Scherbak offers a vivid portrait of a deeply divided country… His play is persuasively translated by Rory Mullarkey, beautifully directed by Michael Longhurst for the International Playwrights season, and admirably designed by Tom Scutt in the Theatre Upstairs: his cleverest, Ayckbournian idea is to merge the play’s three separate apartments so the Latvian and Russian occupants end up sharing the same space. The acting is also first-rate. Michael Nardone catches perfectly the contradiction of the domestically inflexible, politically tolerant Sasha, and Ruby Bentall as his militant daughter blazes with righteous conviction. There are fine performances from Sam Kelly as an unrepentant old marcher, and Ewan Hooper as his more moderate friend.
Fri 18 Mar, 7:45pm Sat 19 Mar, 7:45pm Mon 21 Mar, 7:45pm Tue 22 Mar, 7:45pm Thu 24 Mar, 7:45pm Fri 25 Mar, 7:45pm Sat 26 Mar, 3:00pm Sat 26 Mar, 7:45pm Sat 2 Apr, 3:00pm Sat 9 Apr, 3:00pm Thu 14 Apr, 3:00pm Sat 16 Apr, 3:00pm
Fri 18 Mar, 7:45pm Sat 19 Mar, 7:45pm Mon 21 Mar, 7:45pm Tue 22 Mar, 7:45pm
Wed 23 Mar, 7:00pm
Sat 26 Mar, 3:00pm Sat 2 Apr, 3:00pm Sat 9 Apr, 3:00pm Sat 16 Apr, 3:00pm
Tue 29 Mar, 7:45pm
Tue 12 Apr, 7:45pm
Thu 14 Apr, 3:00pm