York Theatre Royal – until Saturday 21 March 2020
Reviewed by Michelle Richardson
Alone in Berlin, originally a novel written in German by Hans Fallada, is based on true events in 1940’s Berlin. This adaptation by Alistair Beaton is a co-production by York Theatre Royal and Royal & Derngate, Northampton in association with Oxford Playhouse.
I am interested in the history of Berlin during WW2 and the erection of the Berlin Wall. I even studied, and visited, as part of my O level History. I was looking forward to seeing this production and to question what I would have done if I was ever in that situation.
It follows the story of a working-class couple, Otto (Dennis Conway) and Anna (Charlotte Emmerson) Quangel, who after losing their son in the war, become more disenchanted with Hitler and the Third Reich. It is only with the injection of defiance from their son’s fiancé Trudi (Abiola Ogunbiyi), that they decide to make a stand, enough is enough. Otto comes up with a scheme to hand write postcards, opposing the Nazi regime, and leave them scattered all over Berlin. This proves to be extremely laborious with the meticulous Otto only delivering a few cards per week. Frustrated Anna insists on helping, enabling them to reach a larger audience.
The existence of the cards soon come to the attention of the Gestapo and Inspector Escherich (Joseph Marcell) and his superior SS Officer Prall (Jay Taylor). Months pass and a massive hunt ensues for the culprits. Otto and Anna find themselves in a deadly game of cat and mouse. With a near miss, it is only with the betrayal of their thoroughly loathsome neighbour, Klaus Borkausen (Julius D’Silva), that their small acts of rebellion come to an end.
For the whole show there is, what I can only describe as a cabaret narrator, a striking and androgynous figure played by Jessica Walker. First appearing as Golden Elsie, the famous statue on top of Berlin’s Victory Column, she provides commentary throughout, through song, but only really recapping what had already occurred and been said. I found this confusing at times and these narrations interrupted the flow of the production.
The monochrome staging by Jonathan Fensom, is very stark and is enhanced by the projected images of Jason Lutes. Charles Balfour’s lighting is used to great success, be warned, there are a couple of times when you are literally blinded by the light. All this makes for a very atmospheric set, you can literally feel the oppression in the air. I especially liked the effect of an almost 3D tunnel that appear several times during the show.
Even with the evocative subject, the dialogue at times was arduous and I simply wasn’t invested in the characters. It did have its moments and got us talking about important subjects, such as tyranny and oppression, and how that made us feel, but ultimately it fell short for me