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Review: Rosenbaum’s Rescue, at Park Theatre

Insight and humour in play that reflects on the ‘miracle’ rescue of 7,500 Jewish people who managed to escape the occupying Nazi regime in fishing boats

17 January, 2019 — By Sipora Levy

Dorothea Myer-Bennett in Rosenbaum’s Rescue. Photo: Mark Douet

THIS is a timely play, given the current controversy over refugees trying to escape danger in their own countries via small boats.

In his new play, Alexander Bodin Saphir attempts to solve the mystery of how in 1943, 7,500 Jewish people in Denmark managed to escape the occupying Nazi regime in fishermen’s boats, and get to safety in Sweden. The story is of personal significance to him as his grandparents were among those who experienced this first hand.

The drama focuses on two old friends, Lars (Neil McCaul), a historian, and Abraham (David Bamber), a devout Jew, who were estranged by their differences after this event. They agree to try to bury the hatchet in a remote coastal home, during Hanukkah in December 2001. They are joined by Abraham’s wife Sara (Julia Swift), who has invested much emotional energy in the hope of a reconciliation, and Lars’ daughter Eva (Dorothea Myer-Bennett), now living in Germany.

Soon they are angrily discussing those events and, inevitably, tensions rise.

Trapped by a snowstorm there is no way out. What follows is an attempt to get at the truth behind the rescue. Was it as Abraham believes, “a miracle”, or was it more complicated and grey?

Certainly Lars takes a more cynical view – that Denmark had an ulterior motive based on trade with the Third Reich. To spice up the narrative, there are revelations of personal betrayal, power cuts or Acts of God depending on your belief system, and a burst pipe.

Bodin Saphir originally envisaged Rosenbaum’s Rescue as a docudrama, which might have been a more successful way of telling the story. While he makes some important points about history repeating itself, with the rise of the Far Right in Europe and “Muslims becoming the new Jews”, the play is hampered by heavy exposition and angry onstage arguments. There are flashes of insight and humour, but ultimately the result is rather two-dimensional.

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