13 February 2020

Alone in Berlin Review

Hans Fallada's novel Alone in Berlin is given its world premiere at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.
Denis Conway as Otto Quangel and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna Quangel. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

The novel is translated and adapted for the stage by Alistair Beaton and takes us to Berlin in the midst of World War 2. It's based on a true story of a working-class couple who begin a small act of writing and spreading postcards resisting the Nazi rule in the hope that others follow.

The play switches the focus brilliantly between the two acts. Act one focuses on character building, focusing heavily on Otto and Anna Quangel and the beginning of their postcard distribution. The second act switches the focus on to the Gestapo's attempt to catch these resistance fighters. The second act is particularly thrilling as the tension ramps up as we head towards the conclusion of the play.

Denis Conway as Otto Quangel and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna Quangel are excellently believable as a couple of the heart of the story. You can fully understand why they'd be disillusioned by everything going around them as they struggle to make ends meet. They make a charming couple together.

Jay Taylor is commanding as SS Officer Prall, he's effective with his brutality. If all the SS officers were like this it's not hard to see why the German people would cower away in fear. Joseph Marcell does an outstanding job as Inspector Escherich. He is a torn man with his superiors holding his life by a string. He carries emotion superbly and lights up the stage in every scene.

Joseph Marcell as Inspector Escherich, Jay Taylor as SS Officer Prall and Jessica Walker as Golden Elsie. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Julius D'Silva's Klaus Borkhausen and Clive Mendus's Benno Kluge add an air of comedy robbers in their roles. The pair bounce off each other wonderfully well but both have their own motives which play out interestingly.

Jessica Walker is basically playing a version of Emcee from Cabaret. Pale-faced with makeup, she sings songs, composed by Orlando Gough, that break up the scene changes. Whilst this worked in places it did also feel like it slowed down the plot. Jessica adds a great presence as she looms in the backgrounds of scenes. Abiola Ogunbiyi adds an extra layer of tension, especially as the conclusion comes, as Trudi Baumann.

Alistair Beaton's script and James Dacre's direction allow the play to breathe and flow at a great pace and the whole production is enhanced by outstanding visual design. Jonathan Fenson's set is black and dark with only a few props being used. Charles Balfour's lighting is atmospheric and powerfully adds to the tension. Nina's Dunn's projection work is stunning, it allows the audience to travel from place to place and feel and see parts of the journey, it's a genius piece of design.

The whole play is a gripping couple of hours. As tension rises, I found myself on the edge of my seat completely hooked by this powerful tale. The believable performances and fantastic atmosphere of the design really place you at the heart of this tale. I for one didn't want to resist against this play and didn't want it to end, superb.

Rating - ★★★★ a tense and gripping production enhanced with outstanding design and believable performances.

Denis Conway as Otto Quangel, Jessica Walker as Golden Elsie and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna Quangel. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Alone in Berlin continues at the Royal and Derngate until Saturday 29th February 2020. With tickets available from https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/. The play also visits York's Theatre Royal from 3rd to 21st March (https://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/) and The Oxford Playhouse  (https://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/)  from 24th to 28th March 2020.

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