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This report is taken from PN Review 166, Volume 32 Number 2, November - December 2005.

Primo and Primo Time Anthony Rudolf

Primo, performed and adapted from If This is a Man by Antony Sher and directed by Richard Wilson, has been a great success at the National Theatre and also at the Hampstead Theatre. The performance and direction have clearly been deeply pondered and score high marks. It is evident that Sher and Wilson, have done their homework. They know their history; and they know their Claude Lanzmann. Given the not altogether self-evident premise that it is appropriate to adapt Levi's masterpiece as a soliloquy, I would not have wanted such an adaptation performed or directed in an in-your-face way: the production plays down rather than plays up, it understates rather than overstates, it is calm rather than enraged, intimate rather than public, plain rather than coloured, sane rather than mad. The stage design, lighting and rarely deployed live cello music all address the demands of the direction sensitively and powerfully, and could not do more to concentrate the attention of the theatre audience.

But what the adaptation reminds me of is one of those nineteenth-century piano versions of a great symphony. Even as remarkable a performer as Sher cannot, by definition, play all the instruments, so he has chosen to be Franz Liszt, and even has a conductor, the director Richard Wilson, to set the scene. But there is a problem: the book is a literary masterpiece, a highly constructed work of verbal art and, as such, deeply rhetorical in its own way. ...


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