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Heaven in Berlin, Testbed1 – Review

Ciaran McConville
Directed by Jamie Harper

★★★

Pros: Impressive use of lighting and music to create an atmosphere which heightens your senses.

Cons: This kind of promenade does provoke competition amongst the audience – all straining to get a good view of the action across the space. Be prepared to get some elbows!

Our Verdict: This is good promenade theatre – energetic, slick and raw all at the same time.

Courtesy of Hobo Theatre

I was running a bit late in getting to Testbed1 in Battersea. So I missed all of the usual waiting outside the venue to go into the performance space. Instead, I stepped straight into the dark warehouse as the action was beginning. My sight was rendered pretty useless upon entering. The loud music and frenetic activity of the actors hidden in shadows all around me made me hot-foot it fairly quickly over to the safety of the dark mass of audience members grouped together defensively. It was a great start to a cleverly directed piece of promenade theatre.

Heaven in Berlin is a new text written by Ciaran McConville. Basely very loosely on the Tempest, it follows the story of a notorious British musician, Brian, who moves to Soviet -occupied East Berlin in 1985. He takes a job at a University in the hopes of seeking freedom and renewed prestige. As soon as he arrives he falls for the college administrator. They hastily shack up together with her daughter, Judy, a musical protégé. Also at the University is cleaner, Ida, who hasn’t long been in her profession, and has an enigmatic secret. Brian’s hopes of finding freedom and purpose are quickly shattered when his son turns up. In a hot, bitter pursuit Brian’s son forces him to consider the world he has left behind. And with the help and encouragement of Ida, all of the characters discover a new definition of freedom.

Testbed1 is an arts space hired for a wide range of creative projects. It has a lovely adjoining bar, Doodle, which has a great courtyard area and feels very en-trend (in a good way). The warehouse itself, derelict and stripped out, is the perfect ‘unconventional’ space for Hobo Theatre. Formed in 2012 the company aim to run theatre projects in unusual spaces with an international perspective. This piece is performed in promenade so the large, empty space is dotted with a series of small performance areas. These areas are only illuminated when the main action is happening in them – forcing the audience to follow the lights and actors around the warehouse as the action plays out.

The promenade element is utilised very effectively and the entire piece is cleverly directed. The use of lights and smoke, and the presence of supporting actors lurking in the audience create a great atmosphere of darkness, suspicion and mystery.

There is also some very accomplished characterisation from the company – especially from Ida Bonnast who plays the enigmatic cleaner. The element of live music really made the piece for me; plunged into darkness at moments throughout the piece– all you can hear is the live guitarist. The sound and lighting is technically very well put together.

Unfortunately, the story itself did lack a little clarity towards the end although it had some really touching and thought provoking concepts and the character development was spot on. But I couldn’t help but feel upon leaving that something was wanting. However, this was perhaps the intention of the piece given the subject matter.

Overall though this is good promenade theatre – energetic, slick, raw and intimate all at the same time.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Heaven in Berlin runs until the 23rd October at Testbed1, Battersea. Tickets are bought through the Battersea Arts Centre Box Office on 020 7223 2223 for more information see: https://www.bac.org.uk/bac/shows/heaveninberlin

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Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.