Skip to main content

Review of Alone in Berlin at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Alistair Beaton's theatre adaptation of Hans Fallada's original book surprises from it's very beginning with the appearance of Jessica Walker as the narrating statue, Golden Elsie, and then for its complete duration makes you challenge everything that you and they in war-torn Berlin lived by. Thinking theatre is often the best, and Alone in Berlin, the latest offering from Made in Northampton (with York Theatre Royal and association with Oxford Playhouse) makes you think more often than many an offering.

The original novel is a sprawling and deep, nearly 600-page, piece, therefore, Beaton makes two main characters our eyes on the world. Otto and Anna Quangel have lost their son fighting in France, and they challenge their own beliefs and the beliefs of the nation with a fight back against what is ripping their country and the world apart.

Set mostly within the Quangel's home, this play and Jonathan Fensom's brilliantly claustrophobic set exhibits everything we could try to imagine of this terrible time for those that didn't believe but were so frightened to speak out.

Denis Conway as Otto and Charlotte Emmerson as Anna depict this frightened couple both softly and strong, showing the sadness within them, and the force of freewill that slowly comes out. They are both superb, with Emmerson's strong confidence as Anna the driving of the initial part of the as Conway's Otto battles to prevent his wife from getting them both in trouble for her views. The character development is excellent over the first half for all, and we see Conway create the increasingly more bold Otto in a believable way.

Abiola OGunbiyi is sweet yet so strong as the fiancee of the late Quangel's son, Trudi, fighting the fight her way. There is some good humour to be garnered from Julius D'Silva's spiv Klaus and Clive Mendus' "ladies man and petty criminal" Benno before it all turns dark later in the play.

Both Joseph Marcell as the Inspector and Jay Taylor as the SS Officer are strong in performance, although at times you feel that Tayor's character is more than a little caricatured to lay on the evil of Nazi's too much. It's not as if we need that making quite so broadly defined.
Jessica Walker's Golden Elsie is perhaps the most curious part of this piece and perhaps might divide the audience the most. It's a strong performance as narrator from Walker and echoes the musical Cabaret in looks, and as a more musically knowledgable friend noted, a musical influence of Benjamin Britten for Orlando Goughs original songs, particularly Funeral Blues. For me, it mostly works as a bridging of gaps, but perhaps some of the more non-progressive parts of the songs may have been cut to increase the pace of the whole piece.

As well as Fensom's brilliant set, Nina Dunn creates a masterpiece of projection with illustrations from Jason Lutes evoking the propaganda style of the time. This coupled with Charles Balfour's lighting creates the most challenging of locals to drive home the entrapment the characters live by.

It's a bold decision to go for totally blind casting in the roles, and with the "blind" accents as well, makes the whole play an equally bold statement in itself beyond the material. There is no question that director James Dacre has found his feet again with this piece, as it rekindles much of the flair that audiences are now familiar with of his work, with sharp scene changes and excellent use of sound and music.

Alone in Berlin is a superb piece of theatre, which while maybe ten minutes too long, does make you think at every turn as the Quangel's and friends battle the demons that surround them in this new world that they were tricked into. It's timely, it's strong, and it really is pretty good.

Stimulating and strong piece of theatre that evokes a traumatic time with stylish flair.
⭐⭐

Performance reviewed: Wednesday 12th February 2020 at the Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton.
Alone in Berlin runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 29th February 2020

For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk

Photos: Manuel Harlan

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c

Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two. Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me. The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well. When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show