Review: Alone in Berlin on Northampton stage asks big questions but lacks coherence

Lily Canter reviews Alone in Berlin at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

By Lily Canter
Monday, 17th February 2020, 11:21 am
Updated Monday, 17th February 2020, 11:21 am
Joseph Marcell, Jay Taylor and Jessica Walker in Alone in Berlin. Picture: Manuel Harlan
Joseph Marcell, Jay Taylor and Jessica Walker in Alone in Berlin. Picture: Manuel Harlan

In the face of a punishing regime, should individuals keep their heads down to protect their own family or deliberately pursue acts of rebellion, no matter how inconsequential?

This is the dilemma faced by working class German couple Otto and Anna Quangel who live in Berlin under Nazi rule. Initially attracted by the promise of employment and security, the bereaved parents find themselves disillusioned with Hitler, and decide they have no choice but to distribute anti-Nazi postcards.

Alone in Berlin, now running at Royal & Derngate theatre until February 29, is the adaption of Hans Fallada's passionate retelling of the true story of Elise and Otto Hampel, in his novel of the same name.

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In this refreshing production characters are represented with a multitude of light and shade, going against the grain of fascist stereotypes.

This is reflected in the innovative casting which sees Fresh Prince of Bel Air alumnus Joseph Marcell brilliantly cast as conflicted German police inspector Escherich who is just 'doing his job'.

Meanwhile Charlotte Emmerson gives a profoundly affecting performance as the housewife who finds liberation in small acts of resistance.

The monochrome staging is vividly enhanced by the projected images of graphic novelist Jason Lutes which act as city scape scenery while also immersing the audience in the naïve handwritten messages left by the ill-fated pair.

But despite its artistic flourishes it isn't a completely coherent experience. The cabaret style narration lacks depth and singer Jessica Walker is left with little musical accompaniment aside from cast members tapping out a few notes on the piano.

There is also little mounting tension which is remarkable given the starkly oppressive setting.

As with all Made in Northampton productions the technical elements are strikingly inventive and there is an eagerness to make the story relevant to today's politics.

But the narrative and script perhaps need a little more polishing to create a truly captivating experience.

* Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book