I must admit to knowing virtually nothing about Latvia other than it was part of the Soviet Union so for me Aleksey Scherbak's REMEMBRANCE DAY was something of a history lesson. According to Scherbak's play, Latvia, like many former Soviet satellites is split, in this case between "Latvians" who supported the Nazis during World War II to stave off Stalinist aggression, and "Russians" who either came into the country with the Soviets or are the descendants of those who did. They speak Russian and watch a Russian language television channel. Since the end of the Soviet era, they also are definitely second-class citizens. Scherbak dramatizes the split in Latvia through one Russian family around Remembrance Day which celebrates the Nazi war heroes. The father is an architect who is considered a traitor by his fellow Russians because he speaks publicly about the need for reconciliation. The son just wants to learn English and move to America to get rich. The daughter becomes something of a radical fanatic, espousing violence against the Latvians. She hates her father's sentimentality and the cynical pragmatism of the young political activists. The harsh sectarianism of the old men who lived through World War II is not as harsh as it first seems.
There are a few holes in the play's politics. No one mentions the Nazi's slaughter of the Jews. The characters are not all as fully drawn as they might be-- at times more representatives of points of view than characters. However this production of REMEMBRANCE DAY was gripping greatly because of superb direction (Michael Longhurst) and a fine cast. This was one of the best directed plays I have seen in a long time. On a very basic unit set, Longhurst kept the action moving by keeping characters from one scene on stage as the next scene played out. The cast was comprised of actors familiar from British television, but who are also accomplished stage actors. Petite Ruby Bentall (the dizzy maid on LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD) captures the teenage girl's increasing fanatacism effectively. The old partisans (Sam Kelly, Ewan Hooper and Struan Rodger) were particularly good. They can bury the hatchet -- it's the teenage daughter who wants a violent solution.
REMEMBRANCE DAY by Aleksey Scherbak, translated by Rory Mullarkey. Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. April 15, 2011.