BBC Radio 4, 8 November 2008
At one level, Von Ribbentrop’s Watch was a Jewish family melodrama involving Gerald (Allan Corduner), an unsuccessful
wine merchant, his family (including his Gentile wife Ruth (Harriet Walter), who had converted to Judaism), and his dominant
mother (Miriam Margolyes). Writers Marks and Gran highlighted the insularity of many Jewish families – although pretending
to be enlightened, they resented the presence of a non-Jew in their midst, even though she was the only of them to attend
the synagogue on a regular basis. They also were suspicious of anyone trying to deviate from the accepted life-cycle of marriage,
children, and opting for a safe life in the north London suburbs. The play focused on inter-generational conflicts
between the mother and her grand-daughter Sophie (Sophie Wakelam); the older woman adhering to traditional values, the other
trying to escape them while studying at university.
On a deeper level, however, the play focused
on familial skeletons in the cupboard. Gerald had been given a watch by his mother; as he experienced financial difficulty,
he had it valued at Sotheby’s, and discovered as he did so that it had once belonged to Von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador
to Britain during the Hitler era. In a climactic dénouement, the mother revealed that she had appropriated the watch, after
having spent the night with the ambassador during the late 1930s. She was married at the time, but her husband had been away
on business. This secret proved especially embarrassing for a woman professing an abiding hatred for all things German, following
her experiences of the Second World War. The action ended with a plea for tolerance on all sides – perhaps individuals
should forget their prejudices and work together, irrespective of their social, ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Ribbentrop’s Watch was not exactly original in terms of content, but was ably performed by a top-notch cast, making
for an agreeable Saturday afternoon’s entertainment directed by Sally Avens.