Reading the show programme for Alone In Berlin, running at York Theatre Royal until 21st March, they hit the nail on the head by saying “It’s very hard for people to imagine what it’s like to live in a totalitarian state”. Would you stand up to the regime or sit back and live your lives in true fear? Nobody really knows the answer but this stage adaptation of Hans Fallada’s novel allows you an evening of trying to understand the issues that went through people’s minds and hearts during the nazi-regime in Germany.
The show is set in 1940 Nazi-Berlin, following the true story of a courageous couple, Otto Quangel (Denis Conway) and Anna Quangel (Charlotte Emerson) who stand up to the brutal reality of the Nazi regime. With the smallest of acts, they defy Hitler’s rule, ultimately though, facing the fear and the consequences that would be expected. They write, together, postcards that defy the messages from the German government, and one card at a time, try to create change across the country’s capital.
Directed by James Dacre, the adaptation of Alone in Berlin is a confusing but wonderful mix of dark humour and drama. Rather than telling this tale in a harrowing way, Dacre allows for some lighter scenes, aided by the quality of the casting for the characters Inspector Escherich (Joseph Parcell) & Benno Kluge (Clive Mendus). It’s an infectious production that is well paced, and whilst I didn’t particularly feel the singing by Golden Elsie (Jessica Walker) added much to the show at the time, on reflection, the scene transitions were one of the strong points.
The antithesis of Charles Balfour’s lighting and Jonathan Fensom’s set is also something that elevates this production rather than just acts as background noise. The plain, simple set is challenged by bright lighting (which at times was overbearing) and you felt, in the audience, like you would have in Berlin at the time; largely dark but with bright blasts of light from bombs and riots. Very clever.
What impressed me most about Alastair Beaton’s adaptation though isn’t just the way in which the fear and tyranny comes across, but the effectiveness in making it relatable, even when the audience hasn’t lived under such a regime. By using dialogue relating to the fake news concept and the fact that government’s continue to conceal truths are all relevant in 2020, and these subtle touches added a lot to the overall production.
Co-produced by York and the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, this adaptation is one that was highly enjoyable. Reading some other reviews from writers who have read the book, there were large elements missing from the story, but as someone who was coming in blind, this worked. I was truly lost in 1940s Berlin and every line and scene, I held on to and still am a few days later.