Forced Entertainment
The Notebook
Based on the book by Ágota Kristóf
Battersea Arts Centre
Ends 14 November.


Hungarian writer Kristóf’s book is the witness of twin brothers who live with their grandmother in rural Hungary during World War Two.  The text is extraordinary.  It is both naïve and profound in its exploration of two innocents who survive the Nazi and Soviet invasions by cunning and an original form of justice.

At first I found the form difficult as a theatre experience.  The stage is bare.  There is no décor apart from two chairs.  There are limited lighting changes.  The visuals are bleak.  Robin Arthur and Richard Lowdon, as the brothers, wear the same clothes and read from the text.  It is a staged reading but what a reading.  Gradually I was pulled in to the narrative of Kristóf’s compelling writing.  As I became seduced by the hypnotic effect of the storytelling, I could see why director Tim Etchells, had staged the book in this way.  Any visuals would have detracted from the images we audience were making in our own heads.

Kristóf gives us a whole society from the priest who sexually abuses girls to the Nazi officer who abuses the twins and the Soviets who rape the women.  She shows us crowds of starving Jews and the village priest’s disdain for them.  We learn about the housekeeper who sexually arouses the boys being also the woman who humiliates the Jews.  The twins, who sometimes act as murderers, are also avenging angels.  Their morality is bizarre but filled with moral justice.  The simplicity of the language, and the power of the child’s point of view, is what is most arresting in this sharp witness of a double occupation.

Forced Entertainment’s The Notebook is a terrific experience which offers great respect to the author and to the intelligence of its audience.  We hear a unique account of Nazi, Soviet and Hungarian history in a gripping and spare production.

Julia Pascal © 2015.