Matthew Xia on Amsterdam

A violinist. Living in her trendy canal-side Amsterdam apartment. Nine months pregnant. One day a mysterious unpaid gas bill from 1944 arrives. It awakens unsettling feelings of collective identity, foreignness and alienation. Stories of a devastating past are compellingly reconstructed to try and make sense of the present.

Amsterdam is the UK premiere of a strikingly original and audacious play. Maya Arad Yasur is a prize-winning playwright, whose work has been produced worldwide. This is Matthew Xia’s first production as Artistic Director of Actors Touring Company.

An Actors Touring Company, Orange Tree Theatre and Theatre Royal Plymouth production. Supported by Arts Council England.

Daniel Abselson in AMSTERDAM by Maya Arad Yasur - Orange Tree Theatre - photo by Helen Murray

Written by Maya Arad Yasur
Director: Matthew Xia 
Design: Naomi Kuyck Cohen
Movement: Jennifer Jackson
Lighting Design: Ciarán Cunningham
Sound Design: Max Pappenheim
Translated by Eran Edry

In terms of using a historical period in a play, do you expect or hope for any particular audience responses to Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is a rather cunning play, in that it purports to be about a historical period but is, I would argue, very much about now. It’s about a character who is living in the Europe of today, even more specifically, in present day Amsterdam. This nameless, central character becomes more aware of the history of the city as the play develops – and how this history connects to her.

 Is the theatre a good place for examining historical stories like this one?

I think the theatre is possibly the best place to examine what it means to be human. It can present a variety of perspectives, it can jump in time and location with the mere utterance of a word. I think stories which examine any aspect of the past are only useful to us if they allow for reflection on the present.


Fiston Barek in AMSTERDAM by Maya Arad Yasur - Orange Tree Theatre - photo by Helen Murray___

In terms of direction and dramaturgy, do you have any particular approach that you use in this work, and how does it reflect or relate to other work by the company or your own direction in the past?

Often my rehearsals follow a fairly similar pattern. I start by contextualising the work – why are we doing this play, why now, why here and why is it important. Then we begin a process of analysis, of character of relationships, of structure, of time period and location. With Amsterdam this wasn’t necessary as the performers aren’t playing characters – they’re playing slightly extended version of themselves – in essence all they needed to know or understand is “why do I contribute the next line to the story?”.

The dramaturgy of this play was a little more involved. In the script none of the lines are allocated, there is no indication of who should say which line. This meant that the meaning of each line shifted depending on whose mouth it came out of. We initially spent the first week-and-a-half testing this.

Also, normally the blocking of a play, or its physical action, is determined by the intention of the character. Again, in this play the rules don’t apply, so we had to work out just what the terms of engagement with the audience were.

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