Storm Lantern – The Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Duncan Kidd

Director: Steve Small

Every story of those who suffered, survived, and fought against the Third Reich is deserving of an audience and space. In these fretted times, tales of those standing up against the odds in the face of any threat of censorship (and worse) are a necessary rebuttal against the guttural noises which seem to be growing louder with every day. In a time where lies and ‘fake news’ go unchallenged, promoting the truth is the most powerful protest we have.

The first commissioned production for Strange Town’s touring programme, as part of their three-year programme of The Future is Unwritten, Duncan Kidd’s Storm Lantern continues to light the way forward for young audiences. Both as an accessible point for their entry into theatre, and playwrighting, but as a distinctly impressive and powerful reminder of how far ‘truth’ can carry us, and how far we can fall from the path if it is silenced.

And while the future is still unwritten, the past has stories to tell. None so deserving as that of Sophie Scholl – the young university student who was critical in the formation of ‘The White Rose’ – a non-violent resistance group to the Nazi Party, and firmly against the War. After being apprehended following Sophie’s distribution of anti-war pamphlets, and of the tactics of the Party, Sophie and her flatmate Gisela find themselves held in prison under the watch of Robert Mohr. Their crime? providing a full and unfiltered account of what was happening on the front line, which was met head-on but by the full, and brutal tactics of fascism.

Returning to the tour are Evie Mortimer as Sophie, and Rebecca Forsyth as Gisela. Any who had seen the previous tour can immediately note that the pair have become ingrained with their roles, painfully so in how accurately they exude these roles into human beings – rather than characters. Forsyth’s grovelling, and desperation as Gisela is agonising, but sobering and beautiful to watch the growing strength in Gisela’s final moments and acceptance of the truth and where she feels she failed her friend. Still very much an emerging pillar of performance, one with a clear future ahead, Mortimer’s Sophie is richly complex and nuanced – remarkably human. Even in their commitment to their cause, and almost playfully dismissive of Mohr’s interrogation, there’s a streak within Mortimer’s expressions and cadence of the terrified child beneath the stoic student. A passionate performance, a painfully beautiful one which somehow compacts a young woman’s life into sixty minutes.

While both Forsyth and Mortimer return to the show, Paul Beeson steps into the role of Robert Mohr with an immediate physical presence and the threat doesn’t rely on a physicality to intimidate Sophie, instead playing to more psychological tactics, particularly that of manipulating their impending fates and offering a way out. Director Steve Small finds an individual beneath the monstrous without de-valuing the atrocities of the Nazi Party – though there is still room for the dread to be tightened, for the weight of the interrogation and tactics to feel more visceral. Additionally, with a larger life, the production could benefit from trimming the transitions between scenes to maintain momentum and bring in additional lighting and sounds to reinforce the tight direction and script. Beeson’s sole monologue, at the end of all the travesties of the war, and the truth of what he did following Sophie’s request, is harrowing in how rarely this is depicted, and just for a moment shows the pain beneath the officer’s duty.

This evening’s following Q&A session with the performers and director, along with reinforcing Strange Town’s commitment to bringing live theatre to audiences, demonstrates how little of Storm Lantern’s beacon has been explored – with older audiences and those from Germany requesting the piece have rejuvenated life and spread its message as far as its light can reach. Burning as bright as it did at the premiere, though now in even harsher, louder, and more troubling right-wing winds whipped into a frenzy, Storm Lantern is a tremendously accomplished reflection of our (unlearned) pasts into the present, locating nuances and shades of humanity in even the darkest of shadows.

Reviewed on 25 June 2024 | Image: Andy Catlin

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