Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Stone

by Kathryn Hadley

Three families; three generations; one house; one stone. To mark the anniversary of the foundation of the Federal Republic in 1949, Marius von Mayenburg’s latest play, The Stone, currently on show at the Royal Court Theatre, explores sixty years of German history through the story of the changing ownership of a house in Dresden. The play retraces the lives of three different families over three generations, from 1935 to 1993, providing glimpses of key episodes of German history, including the Nazi accession to power, wartime Germany, the aftermath of the German defeat and the division of Germany, and the fall of the Soviet bloc and subsequent German reunification.

The staging is minimalist and the play is performed by just six actors, who age or go back in time, to play their characters at different times in their lives and through the different eras of German history. The scenery does not change from one period to another, nor do the characters’ costumes or make-up, leaving the audience captivated in a desperate attempt to situate the play in time. More than a device for creating suspense, the unchanging scenery is also symbolic of Germany’s enduring past and the reverberations of Germany’s wartime and postwar history to the present day. The characters are unable to escape their pasts and they are also unable to escape from one another; their different stories are all interlinked by a common national history and by their successive ownership of the same house.

The house is initially owned by a Jewish couple, Mieze Schwarzmann and her husband, who are forced to leave and sell their house in 1935, following the arrival of the Nazis in power. Witha and her husband Wolfgang buy the house and Wolfgang, who is involved in the German resistance movement, allegedly helps the Schwarzmann’s to flee the country. Their house is, however, frequently attacked by Nazi sympathizers in the belief that it is still inhabited by Jews. The stone, which is one day thrown through the window hitting Wolfgang, recurs throughout the play and becomes a symbol for the tragedy of Jewish persecution under the Nazi regime.

From 1935, the play moves to 1945 and to the wartime bombing of Dresden. There are allusions to the Soviet liberation when Witha recalls how her husband was killed accidentally by a Soviet celebratory shot, on the day of the liberation of Dresden. In 1953, in the context of the onset of the Cold War, Witha and her daughter Heidrun flee to the West, leaving the stone buried in the garden. The audience is thereafter given a glimpse of daily life in eastern Germany when, in 1978, Heidrun and Witha return to the East on a day trip to visit their house, which is in ruins and occupied by three families. Heidrun also bribes Stefanie, a young girl who is living in the house with her grandfather following her parents’ flight to the West, with chocolate from the West.

In 1993, Heidrun moves back to the house with her mother and daughter, Hannah, when they receive a visit from Stephanie, fifteen years after their initial meeting in 1978, to reclaim the chocolate that she never received and haunt them with memories of the past history of the house. Witha is the only surviving character of these sixty years of German history. She provides thread which connects the successive generations and each of their stories and, in 1993, as an elderly woman, the sixty years of German history are frequently tied back together as she has flashbacks to Mieze Schwarzmann and to her wartime experiences.

The play is part of the 'Off The Wall' season of new plays about Germany staged at the Royal Court Theatre in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany and the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As part of the series, the Royal Court Theatre will also stage the premiere of Over There by Mark Ravenhill (February 25th - March 21st). The play tells the story of two twin brothers who are separated when their mother escapes to the West with one of her sons, leaving the other one on the other side of the wall. 25 years later, Karl crosses the border in search of his other half, revealing their difficulties to reconnect when the two Germanys meet again.

The Stone
Until February 28th
Royal Court Theatre
Sloane Square
London SW1W 8AS
Telephone: 020 7565 5000

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an intriguing play! WWII buffs might also want to check out my new novel, The Fuhrer Virus. It is a spy/conspiracy/adventure story for adolescent and adult readers, set in 1941 (fictional). It can be found at or at


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