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THE POTSDAM QUARTET – Jermyn Street Theatre, London.

the potsdam quartetThe Potsdam Quartet is based on a real quartet who performed for Churchill, Truman, Stalin and Attlee at the Potsdam conferences towards the end of the Second World War. In the close space of Jermyn Street the emotions can be conveyed subtly and honestly, helping to give the story authenticity. The dialogue is compelling and the interaction between the actors (Michael Matus, Daniel Crowder, Philip Bird and Stefan Bednarczyk) believable as interaction between close friends who have developed grudges, rivalries and political differences. However, there are a few issues with pacing and mood which sometimes makes it feel less like glimpsing a private conversation and more like intruding on one.

Early on, three of the quartet having entered and sitting in silence for a few minutes, the tension between them is tangible. Anthony Biggs’s direction successfully maintains this taut mood throughout. Even when joking with each other, bitter feelings among the four are always bubbling just below the surface, an argument always threatening to start. Not even a lighthearted ending dispels the pressure and many of the character’s issues are left unresolved, which is not necessarily a bad thing. No doubt the Potsdam conferences also wound-up with a similar feeling of unresolved concern between Russia, the US and Britain, so it’s appropriate to see the narrative parallel this. However, perhaps because of the effort to maintain tension, the emotions of the characters and the tone of their conversations often changes very suddenly. Occasionally this makes the piece feel discordant and jumpy. The humorous moments, for example, are all well performed and genuinely funny but often change the mood too abruptly.

The second act feels more settled, the opening scene in particular. Philip Bird and Ged Petkunas, who play musician Ronald Taylor and the Russian guard Taylor has a crush on, get the balance between humour and seriousness just right.

It would also have been nice to see more time devoted to conveying what life was like in occupied Germany. There are a few places where quite shocking scenes of war are described, corpses in lakes and children crushed by falling buildings, but not much time is left to develop these moments or show how affecting they must have been. Consequently the harshness of their situation doesn’t come through as strongly as it might.

Despite being occasionally jumpy, The Potsdam Quartet is an enjoyable exploration of four complex characters.

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Reviewed 01/11/13

By Andrea White

29th Oct – 23rd Nov 2013
 Jermyn Street Theatre, London, SW1.

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