BWW Review: ALONE IN BERLIN, Royal and Derngate
Given the turbulent times that we live in, a new stage adaptation of Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin would seem like a smart choice for an ambitious theatre (or theatres, as this is a co-production with York Theatre Royal, in association with Oxford Playhouse).
Translator and adaptor Alistair Beaton says in the programme notes that instead of the sweeping panorama of Fallada's novel, he is trying to tell a story which "asks some hard questions about ourselves" - as well as being a tale from inside the darkness of Nazi Germany.
Based on the true story of Elise and Otto Hampel, the play follows Anna and Otto Quangel - a couple who voted for Hitler because they were starving and he promised jobs, but who do not like the country that Hitler has created.
Initially more inclined to do nothing than his wife, Otto (Dennis Conway) starts to carry out his own quiet acts of resistance. Anna (Charlotte Emmerson), who is openly unhappy with the Nazi regime from the start, soon persuades him to let her join in, and it's not long before the Gestapo is trying to find them.
As Inspector Escherich, a detective who now finds himself part of the Gestapo, Joseph Marcell is quietly conflicted - just trying to stay alive and not be drawn into the torture and brutality he sees around him, but nonetheless unwilling to take a stand to stop it.
I admired the ambition of the piece and really wanted to like it more, but found it frustrating. James Dacre's direction was trying to build a taut thriller, but I found the tension was broken every time the Weimar-inspired cabaret narrator Golden Elsie (Jessica Walker) was brought in, even though I liked the idea of the character and what it was trying to do. The performances had their moments, but the dialogue felt flat and laboured at times, which hampered everything.
However, I loved Jason Lute's woodcut-inspired artwork and Jonathan Fensom's design. The night that I saw the play, there were problems with the lighting rig, which meant that I didn't get the full effect of Charles Balfour's lighting design, but what I did see was striking and atmospheric.
A noble try, but ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
Alone in Berlin at Royal and Derngate until 29 February, then York and Oxford.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan