Werther's Sorrows

A modern day retelling of The Sorrows of Young Werther manages to lose the drama and vitality of Goethe’s work in this muddled adaptation by Time Zone Theatre Company. 18-year-old German Werther eschews study and arrives in London to begin travelling the world at the start of his gap year. Invited to a party, despite the fact he doesn’t ‘know anyone zere!’, he stumbles upon Charlie and becomes infatuated with her beauty; ‘before I had nothing and now I have everything!” he exclaims. After discovering she is engaged to be married to musician Al, he starts to ponder his place in the world.

The script by Duncan Gates starts off engagingly enough, with Werther and Charlie’s first meeting towards the beginning carrying an affable fluency, but soon after it becomes more than a little cluttered with clichéd language and rather misjudged German stereotypes. Other than to retain the name Werther, I found no reason for the main character to remain German, especially as actor Jolyon Westhorpe was not quite able to attain an authentic foreign accent. Katharina Sellner is more accomplished as Charlie, although is hardly made out to be the Lotte that made young men of the eighteenth century swoon. Directed without a great deal of ambition, only the lighting changes, which gradually reveal their meaning, were inventive; awkward music cues, including Bowie’s Something in the Air, were completely unnatural.

More troubling is that Werther’s moral troubles towards the play’s close are too forced (for the uninitiated I won’t reveal how it concludes), coming to head with a bizarre scene in which Westhorpe kills a degu, before tearing out a London A-Z and downing half a bottle of vodka. But an intriguingly ambiguous ending saves the play from being totally devoid of interest.

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The Blurb

The tragic love story of young Werther comes to life in this contemporary, thrilling play based on Goethe's famous German classic - adapted by Royal Court Young Writer's Programme graduate, Duncan Gates. **** (RemoteGoat.co.uk for Last Day).

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