The Timekeepers – a timely lesson wrapped in a timeless tale

By Andy Rice 15 July 2010

A play set in a Nazi concentration camp when a conservative old Jew meets an outrageously camp German homosexual hardly sounds like a good uplifting evening out. Yet “The Timekeepers” wheedles its way into your heart minute by minute, telling a story about relationships that is surprisingly universal.

The play by Dan Clancy is both touching and funny, with witty dialogue and a strong story line that soon has you caring about both its suffering characters, Benjamin and Hans. The Jew, wearing a yellow triangle to denote his religion, and the homosexual, bearing a blatant pink triangle, are both victims of the Nazi system. “Yellow and pink just aren’t in fashion,” as Hans declares.

Like many relationships, this one grows when Benjamin (Pinhas Mittelman) begins to thaw towards Hans (Roy Horovitz) because of a mutual need. Benjamin wants information about his family that his gay friend may be able to supply. Hans, in turn, needs to learn the skills of watch repairing to survive inside the camp.

That trade-off soon develops into a mismatched friendship, fuelled by the brutish presence of their guardian (Omer Etzion).

The prisoners share a common love of opera, but still manage to turn that into a clash of Puccini versus Verdi. Eventually opera too strengthens their bond, as they sing together for fun, or to calm and console.

Director Lee Gilat has created a supremely tight affair where timing and emotions, humour and poignancy all interplay perfectly. The cold setting of a simple cell makes a stark background for this warm and gentle story of the value of friendship.

This is an Israeli production, and at times I struggled to decipher Horovitz’s words of with his accent and overtly camp presentation. He plays the role superbly, gradually showing the fragility behind a façade of flamboyance. Mittelman too is masterful as the reserved, composed Jew hiding a consuming guilt beneath his icy exterior.

As the two learn to trust and then protect each other, the author sends the message that our differences and prejudices can be set aside. This is serious, high-quality drama that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

“The Timekeepers” runs at the Sandton Old Mutual Theatre on the Square until 24 July.

By Lesley Stones

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