It’s 1961 and construction has begun on the Berlin Wall. At the direction of Walter Ulbricht, Berlin is split into East and West sectors. Many Germans try to cross the wall – over or under – with those in East Berlin looking to reach freedom on the other side. Cousins Paul (Lewis Bruniges) and Freddie (Oliver Yellop) have been meeting for months to secretly dig a tunnel for their escape to the West. Niall Ransome provides accompanying guitar and Krautrock from the side of the stage.
As they dig, they talk about the usual things young men talk about: nights out drinking, girls and topics that we can only imagine were the usual things young men talked about back in such a time and a place. These include the Stasi – the secret police – and the use of informants to spy on the population.
Are the young men so carefree as to not be concerned about being caught, or the ramifications of the tunnel being discovered? There is a curious lack of exploration of this, even as the play takes a twist and the tunnel collapses. Instead, we move to a story of love, with a betrayal, almost out of nowhere, which drives a wedge between the two cousins, who then literally move in opposite directions in the tunnel. A potentially fascinating area of discussion arises as we learn of one cousin’s involvement with the Stasi, but unfortunately this is unexplored, although an excellent, connected piece of fast fight work comes off very well.
There is effective use of light and sound (Fergal Mulloy) and smart direction by Colin Ellwood to show us the two cousins below ground, Alongside this, there is simple but innovative design work, wherein short pieces of metal nicely define the tunnel and demonstrate some of the effort that would be required to dig and support it.
Unfortunately, Tunnels at times moves a little too fast, particularly as scene changes occur. The lights drop instantly once a line is finished, and more than once a little bit more breathing room would have been appreciated.
This play has a great concept and touches on a number of areas that could make for a great drama. I would love to see these tunnelled down into (sorry!) and for something really strong to come out of the work in a future run.
Written by: Oliver Yellop
Directed by Colin Ellwood
Sound Design by Fergal Mulloy
Music by Benji Hooper
Tunnels plays at Park Theatre as part of their Make Mine A Double season with Press (review here). Tickets can be purchased sperately or as a discounted double bill. Further information and bookings can be found here.