There’s something particularly stirring about a play reaching an audience in symbiotic empathy – which was exactly the case last month at a Saturday matinee of Tony Kushner’s “Slavs!” at the Hampstead Theater in Matthew Lloyd’s first-rate production. (Note, especially, its astonishing trio of actresses – Imelda Staunton, Aisling O’Sullivan and the ferociously moving Annette Badland.)
The closing question of the play – “What is to be done?” – had barely been posed before the audience began echoing it throughout the auditorium, as one spectator after another was heard repeating the query into the darkness.
Could it be that the ideological and historical betrayals depicted on stage spoke directly to this public – many of them elderly, some undoubtedly Jewish emigres from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as is typically the case at Hampstead?
Perhaps, but whatever the explanation, the result was something to behold: a cast united with its audience at the curtain in tears of urgent bewilderment.
What is to be done, indeed? An impossibly large question to which great theater may provide one tiny – and hopeful- response.