Pros: An interesting play with some innovative use of movement.
Cons: The play took a while to get going and some of the dialogue was lost.
I was very excited by the thought of seeing this Jackinabox production of Berlin, a stage adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s autobiography: I had heard that Cabaret was based on one of Isherwood’s novels. And after doing a little digging, I also found that one of my favourite movies, Tom Ford’s A Single Man, was also based on one of his works…
The play focusses on Christopher, a young English writer who yearns for sexual liberation and cultural inspiration. Enthralled by the wonders of Berlin, he sets off, against his mothers wishes, with a one way ticket to Germany. In Berlin, he experiences sex, prostitution, whore houses, gambling, drinking, cabarets and even S&M. He is torn between love and sex, but cares not what he does. He is here for the ride and for the revolution. Unfortunately this is during the Nazi regime and Christopher also sees some horrific, unjustifiable acts that push him to leave Berlin and travel to France with his lover Heinz and friend Wystan. Realising that things are not what they seem, Christopher returns to England and finally ends up as a successful writer in New York.
I must admit that the beginning of the play is rather slow and somewhat confusing. We are introduced to the narrator, Christopher Isherwood played by John Askew, and are brought along on his whirlwind of adventures. This is a very important role and unfortunately at times I felt that Askew was lacking energy. Some of his words are lost under the shuffling of trunks or the music. That being said, Askew has a perfect upper class accent and created some very poignant and believable moments, notably during the scenes between Christopher and Heinz, played by Guy Woolf. It wasn’t until the Nazi’s grip began to tighten that the play really started to pick up pace and make sense. Only at this point was I finally able to empathise with some of the characters.
Although the content was blurry, there were some very interesting moments throughout the play, in particular the aspect of movement. I have seen many a sex scene on stage and the way Hayley Adams decided to choreograph was not only refreshing but at times very moving. The staging of the play was very complicated, since it jumps from London to Berlin, to a cabaret, to a museum, to a book shop etc… and despite all of this there was still some fluidity. The ensemble of actors worked well together, they all complimented one another and supported each other. I felt that Kathleen Isherwood played by Judith Quin portrayed the stern upper class mother wonderfully. She was very watchable, with a clear voice and unintentional comedy. Heinz played by Woolf was also very believable. Woolf captured the innocence and joviality of Heinz perfectly. Finally I thought that Jean Ross played by Molly Lynch had not only a powerful voice but also just the right amount of showiness and sincerity to do the character justice.
Overall the show is good although there is some room for improvement. The show requires an interval as it’s not gripping enough to merit a 75 minute running time with no break. The performances are believable and enjoyable, however some of the performances outshine others. If you’re a fan of Isherwood or would like to know more about him, then this play is for you. Just pay close attention to what is going on or you might get lost.
Director: Katherine Timms
Movement Director: Hayley Adams
Producer: Isabel Dixon for Jackinabox
Book Until: 5 July 2014