While world history is ‘officially’ about facts, in reality it is an amalgamation of thousands of experiences into one coherent narrative. Even so, the experience of a country as a whole isn’t necessarily the same as a particular community or individual, and never was this more true than in the Second World War… In Maya Arad Yasur’s Amsterdam, the events of occupied-Netherlands are gradually sifted to the surface, much as an archaeologist carefully extricates dust and foreign matter from fossils.
The plot is simple enough: an Israeli violinist who happens to live in an Amsterdam apartment receives an envelope that is slid under her door. Within it is a mysterious unpaid gas bill from 1944, addressed to another woman. But who is this other woman? And why is the violinist receiving this now?
The mystery is told by four actors/’narrators’ (Fiston Barek, Hara Yannas, Daniel Abelson and Michal Horowicz) who much like ‘storytelling in the round’, each adds their contribution to the narrative… Except they don’t all agree on what’s happened. In fact much of what’s said is speculation and conjecture, eliminating the ‘impossible’ and the ‘improbable’ to come up with ‘the most likely’ explanation. This of course is a perfect metaphor for the study of history and science itself, as hypotheses are tested and evaluated for their ‘integrity’ under rigorous examination. But I digress.
The story of the violinst takes on a introspective dimension, as she talks about her concerns while she tries to communicate with Dutch citizens about the bill. Acutely aware of her own ethnicity and the assumptions people make with regards to looks and who eats certain types of food, the violinist’s ‘paranoia’ takes on a Kafkaesque dimension, while her trains of thought that veer at breakneck speed take on a Joycean quality.
In a city that has one of its ‘tourist attractions’ the house that Anne Frank and her family stayed in hiding, the play shows how the ghosts of the past are forever ‘present’ in some places, yet kept at bay by consensus – an odd tension, much like oil floating on the surface on water, or in Amsterdam’s case, its canals…
© Michael Davis 2020
Amsterdam made its UK premiere at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond in 2019. It was available to watch online this year from 26th March to 23rd May.