Writer: Hans Fallada
Adaptor: Alistair Beaton
Director: James Dacre
“Nobody cares about the lies… Give them glory, national pride, they’ll go along with anything”
This excellent adaptation of Hans Fallada’s novel, receiving its world premiere here in Northampton, asks many questions – and chief among them is, how would you respond when fascism comes knocking?
The novel is based on true events, though names and characters were changed when it was written, and further changes have been made in the adaptation. The result is a piece of theatre that stands in its own right and, rather than trying to squeeze the novel onto the stage in its vast and sweeping entirety, focusses purely on a handful of significant characters.
Berlin, 1940. Otto and Anna Quangel are mourning the death of their son, killed in action in France, and share their grief with his fiancée Trudi. In trying to come to terms with their loss, the three choose different ways to react, until finally Otto and Anna reach agreement on how to respond – tiny but potentially fatal acts of insurrection, things they naïvely believe will engage thousands of others but which realistically will achieve little, particularly in a Nazi regime with frightened people more likely to report things to the police rather than join in themselves.
Denis Conway and Charlotte Emmerson both shine as Otto and Anna – Otto the indecisive one, initially scared and inclined to look the other way, and Anna knowing from the start that she has to behave with humanity towards her neighbours. They have good support from Abiola Ogunbiyi as Trudi, who decides that small acts aren’t enough to show her opposition. There’s some good work here too from Joseph Marcel as Inspector Escherich, who regards himself as merely a policeman, as he was before the war, but who seems apparently content to go along with the policies of his new masters in the SS – represented here by SS Officer Prall. In a play full of ordinary people, Jay Taylor’s vicious and sadistic Prall is possibly the most traditionally recognisable character on stage. There’s an entertaining pairing of Julius D’Silva and Clive Mendus as Otto Borkhausen, the neighbour who’ll blackmail you or report you if he can, and small-time criminal Benno Kluge, whose motivations revolve largely around sex and staying out of the army.
Jonathan Fensom’s set is simple and striking, with most of the work being done by video projection of images and text and enhanced by some wonderfully appropriate lighting courtesy of Charles Balfour. It all flows along very nicely, partly due to the set and partly due to the nature of the adaptation – and it’s this adaptation that is in many ways the star of the show.
Alone in Berlin has been re-translated from the original and adapted for the stage by Alistair Beaton. His decision to evoke Brecht here is both bold and spectacularly successful. The piece consists of scenes that are almost extended vignettes, bound together by narrative song which serves to set the scene, explore motivations, and keep things moving as well as setting the play firmly in time and place. The original songs are written by Beaton and Orlando Gough in the style of Kurt Weill and beautifully delivered by Jessica Walker as Golden Elsie, brought to life and descended from her usual place on Berlin’s Victory Column to narrate events.
Made in Northampton productions seldom disappoint and this one equally delivers. With James Dacre’s sure-footed direction this timely piece will have you considering your own action or inaction – not an easy watch, but something that will surely stay with you for a long time.
Runs until 29 February 2020