Nicholas Wright’s play about an East European village discovering the wonders of film is nifty parallel of the Hollywood machine: the director’s vision is blocked at every turn by the financier; the public are easily bored and quick to criticise, and sexual tensions threaten to derail the whole project.
It sees an ageing Hollywood director, Jewish immigrant Maurice Montgomery, looking back over his formative years as an earnest young filmmaker in a run-down shtetl.
The whole village becomes involved in the creation of his movies, happening upon filming techniques like jump cuts for the first time, with the grainy results projected onto the wall of a local house. Wright’s script brings to mind Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel Everything is Illuminated, not only in its setting but also its neat way of tying up loose ends.
Mark Extance puts in a solid performance as the flimsy young director but it is Antony Sher as the unlikely timber merchant-come-financier who commands the stage. He imbues the illiterate, lustful Jacob with enough humanity to make him a lovable oaf and his explosive performance is the focal point of a busy stage.
The set is lovingly crafted; a sparse but homely building complete with smoking chimney, overlooked by rickety wooden rooves. Taking centre stage is the Lumiere Brothers cinematograph – the device that makes the magic happen.
At heart Wright’s play is a love-letter to the moving picture, and a very good one at that.
First published in City A.M.