'All Our Children' review or 'File under...??'

All Our Children, Stephen Unwin
Jermyn Street Theatre, 2nd May 2017
Written for Time Out 

Rows of black folders are stacked rigidly on a shelf in a doctor’s study. They look like an army of soldiers, or perhaps a cluster of coffins. Inside those folders: the medical history of hundreds of disabled German children. The cause of death might read ‘epilepsy’ or ‘choking’, but these are lies. This is a clinic in Nazi Germany for disabled children who have been deemed ‘unworthy of life’. They will almost all be sent to their deaths.
‘All Our Children’ is director Stephen Unwin’s first play as a writer and it deals with a subject close to his heart. Unwin is father to a profoundly disabled child and an active campaigner for the rights of those with learning difficulties. This is his rally cry. It’s a bit heavy-handed in places, but the anger and arguments at the heart of this protest piece are strong.
The play unfolds in a sombre doctor’s study (designer Simon Higlett has gone for gloomy realism) during one very long and troubling day for Victor Franz, director of the clinic. As the snow settles outside and paints the world anew, the doctor is needled by his brutal Nazi assistant Eric, lectured by a bishop, held to account by his maid Martha and confronted by a desperate mother. Will he see the evil of his ways?
Colin Tierney is twinkly yet severe as the opera-loving Doctor – but his internal conflict doesn’t come alive. The moralising bishop (David Yelland, arch with outrage) and remorseless assistant (Edward Franklin, spitting disgust) are good and bad angels, rather than characters proper. It’s the mother Elizabetta – played with ferocious intent by Lucy Speed – who ignites this play. Raging against her son’s death, Elizabetta angrily tries to bat away her grief and hold onto her dignity. Her broken heart is the only argument necessary and this line about her son, all that needs to be said: ‘I just love ‘im.’


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