Review: Alone In Berlin at York Theatre Royal

We are used to epic films about the Second World War and stories of the blitz but this play shows us something quite different. It is based on a true story and tells of two normal working people in Berlin in 1940. A perfectly ordinary couple carry on a private campaign of resistance by leaving postcards in stairwells around the city on which anti-Nazi messages are written.

By Angie Millard

They hate Nazism and are motivated by grief and rage at the death of their son in battle, thus they embark on tiny but very dangerous acts of resistance. The police are infuriated and Inspector Escherich (Joseph Marcell), with dogged precision to detail, creates a city map using flags to show the whereabouts of the cards and tries to calculate where the culprit might live. He is under pressure from the SS to end the embarrassment and Jay Taylor’s infuriated Officer bullies and blusters in frustration. It is a game of cat and Mouse but when petty criminals Kiuge (Clive Mendus) and Borkhausen (Julius D’Silva) become involved it inevitably leads to deception and betrayal.

Conway is implacable in his misson to undermine his enemy and Emmerson shows simple courage alongside him. Both actors are subtle and the contrast of the authorities reaction is almost laughable as D’Silva fumes and Marcell becomes obsessed with his hunt. Abiola Ogunbiyi plays the dead son’s fiancee with a focus derived from her commitment to resistance but she too is a fatal victim. The ending is inevitable for all.
Most effecting is the detail of the daily life laid out on stage in front of Jonathan Fensom’s superb linear visuals and Nina Durne’s video design of cityscapes using illustrations from Jason Lute’s Graphic novel ‘Berlin’. The cold, hard lighting design adds to the harsh effect.

There is a Berlin cabaret motif using the singer Jessica Walker which is less impressive and uses rather dreary music and lyrics rather like a dated Brechtian play. She is good but belongs in a different setting and another production.

Dacre is trying to tell us something about life in a fascist regime and the importance of the individual’s need for action, but the play doesn’t support the rather slim substance of the plot, which is a pity given the high quality of the production.

Alone In Berlin, adapted by Alastair Beaton from the novel, ‘Every man Dies Alone’ by Hans Fallada, is running at York Theatre Royal from 3 to 21 March 2020. The Director is James Dacre. Set design is by Nina Durne. Lighting design is by Charles Balfour.