COLLABORATION<br /><strong>Duchess Theatre</strong><br /><br />COLLABORATION is part of a pair of plays by Ronald Harwood at the Duchess Theatre (the other is Taking Sides), both of which tackle different sides of the subject of the Nazis’ persecution of the Jews, and the roles of artists fulfilled in the regime. It’s a subject Harwood has focused on several times before, most prominently in his Oscar-winning script for the Roman Polanski movie The Pianist.<br /><br />“Collaboration”, of course, is a word loaded with meaning in the context of the Nazis. There might once have been a time when it simply meant a joining of forces, such as the artistic collaboration entered into in the early 1930s by the German composer Richard Strauss (Michael Pennington) and the librettist Stefan Zweig (David Horovitch), an Austrian Jew. Harwood shows them entering into a fruitful relationship – and friendship – that is shattered when the Nazi regime insists Strauss relinquish the association.<br /><br />It is a dramatic story of complex motivations and emotions. Zweig reluctantly insists on breaking the partnership while Strauss, a somewhat egotistical dreamer, feels desperately abandoned by the writer, even as the Nazis blackmail him with threats to his half-Jewish grandchildren.<br /><br />The first half of the play is unnecessarily ponderous – all set-up and no meat, with some rather drastic overacting on Pennington’s part. The second half is like an entirely different play, however, as the tentacles of Goebbels’ thought police insinuate themselves into Strauss’s life. Pennington delivers a barnstorming final scene as Strauss, defeated and dismayed, attempts to justify himself before the post-war tribunal. It’s a poignant, disquieting climax to an interesting, if uneven, melodrama.