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THE IMPOSTERS

A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

Paulden Hall Productions in association with Folie a Duex Productions presents

 

I Am A Camera

 


I AM A CAMERA HarryMelling(ChristopherIsherwood) RebeccaHumphries(SallyBowles) and

Oliver Rix (CliveMortimer)

PhotoNicolaiKornum

 

by John Van Druten

Based on 'Goodbye to Berlin' from The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

Directed by Anthony Lau

Assistant Director – Becky Catlin

Designer – James Turner

Design Assistant – Helen Dale Richardson

Lighting Designer - Nicoli Kornum

Costume Designer – Sarah Booth

 

Presented by arrangement with Samuel French Ltd

 
Southwark Playhouse
 
5 – 22 September 2012


 

Life is short, that we all agree on, and the storyline of this 1951 Broadway play, adapted by John Van Druten, based on Isherwood’s 'Goodbye to Berlin', from The Berlin Stories published in 1939, which the musical Cabaret was drawn from, emphasises that, as so many human dramas occur within its framework.

Christopher Isherwood was, in reality, and is in this auto-biographical play, a struggling young English writer living above his meagre means in Weimer Berlin. Thankfully, his seemingly, kindly landlady Fraulein Schneider doesn’t press him for overdue rent. When we catch up to him in this stage adaptation of his Berlin memoirs, Chris is just about to meet his friend Fritz’s green nailed pal Sally Bowles, a poor little rich girl from his homeland who loves to shock people with her frank, fast talking, flapper hung over ways. But in the days of street rioting and rising anti-Semitism in Nazi infested Germany, genuine shocks were sadly, all too rife.

Isherwood cleverly enabled the characters in this dramatic web to draw on various factions of society, simultaneously showcasing paradoxes. Though she’s kindly towards Isherwood, long term Berliner Fraulein Schneider is all too willing to spread the going propaganda that any ills are the fault of the ‘too clever’ Jews. Isherwood himself, though poor, with somewhat hesitant hopes about his future career, is at that juncture, playing a waiting game, until his circumstances improve, as demonstrated by his eagerness, despite inner misgivings, to tag along with anyone crossing his path willing to foot the bill for hedonistic experiences. This is the intrinsic element of his nature that he and Sally share – however their inborn levels of entitlement may differ, as the play gradually reveals. Both rebel against their present circumstances in their own way and are similarly inclined to overlook and/or dismiss the ‘riots’ etc., in favour of fatted escapism. Here is where Isherwood’s true talents unfurl, in that, as ‘Chris’ he does not, in literary terms, stick to his own kind, choosing instead to imbue his young German, Jewish characters, Fritz Wendell and Natalia Landauer with an inward nobility akin to tales of English heroism. That goes a long way towards explaining choices made for the movie based on the play, Cabaret (1972), originally staged on Broadway in 1966, then famously, filmed, in the aftermath of the freeing late ‘60’s, when Isherwood’s Chris was finally permitted to emerge from his subtext, dust off his formerly closeted cobwebs and at long last, be himself. Having met Michael York briefly when I worked at the National Gallery once upon a time, and found myself wilting in the glow of his charming gaze, I can only say that both he and Liza Minnelli, whose concerts I've attended were perfect choices for Chris and Sally in the film’s timeframe, highlighting then, that the possible degradation of society loomed through so called foreign elements all too accustomed to overlooking society’s ills in favour of living off the fabled fat of the land. Regarded from that perspective, this play seems topical.

Now that I’ve blustered about the storyline, let’s get on with the show...Chris, our narrator, looking back over the remnants of his Berlin past, as one might the trappings of a well–meaning party that descended into tatters, Harry Melling of Harry Potter fame, is at first, suitably non-committal, without veering too much in either direction, imagining his stability lays in straddling the fence. This balancing act may be well judged on the part of director Anthony Lau, though the character’s latent homosexuality if hinted at, is done so in a whisper. One imagines Lau sticking to the 1950’s play, in turn, following on from the ’39 storyline as written in that regard. Rebecca Humphries has a legacy carved out for her as cult figure Sally Bowles, and there are times, particularly during scenes with Melling alone, when her character reaches a tawdry pinnacle. It took some getting used to Humphries’ Sally to begin with, who initially put me in mind of exaggerated Noel Coward women, though one always pictures Bowles as an addictively acquired taste. That said, by the time Humphries had gamely swallowed one of Bowles near mythic ‘Prairie Oysters’, consisting of the (for me) vomit inducing ingredients of raw egg dashed with Worcestershire Sauce, I was won over.

 

 

I AM A CAMERA HarryMelling (ChristopherIsherwood) Rebecca Humphries (SallyBowles)

Photo Nicolai Kornum

 

 

All of the supporting roles in this production are consistently well played, with Joanne Howarth as accommodating land-lady, Fraulein Schneider initially setting a high credibility standard which Sophie Dickson as Isherwood’s pupil, Natalia Landauer rises to, imbuing her character with a touching sense of strength, despite inner pathos in an era of senseless outer cruelty. Freddie Capper also etches a memorable portrayal as Isherwood’s glib but intelligent friend, Fritz, who inadvertently discovers he’s not the womaniser he’d previously seen himself as. Oliver Rix gives a solidly atypical turn as a spoiled American, Clive Mortimer, enjoying the fruits of his spoils on the grandiose tour. While stoically blind eyed Sherry Baines adds impetus to Humphries’ Bowles as her tweed encrusted my way or the highway, right from the country manor drawing room mother, Mrs. Watson-Courtneidge.

The setting of the play is apt, with a lived in chaise lounge, writing desk and chair occupying front-stage, and makeshift cupboard ‘bar’ lining the back, behind which, three talented live musicians enhance atmosphere, shifting from clarinet and piano, together with big bass and drum accompanying through ragtime and similarly tin pan alley inflections, enabling  mood swings. We see the musicians, but they’re so good at what they’re doing, we’re quickly able to forget they’re there.  

At the end of this production, if it seemed as though something was missing amid Isherwood’s wry humour and gin soaked banality it was definitely, intentional.  For if any song epitomises the play’s hollowed out themes in relation to its’ leads it could only be echoing discordant ‘Is That All There Is?’

 

 

I AM A CAMERA Freddie Capper (FritzWendel) HarryMelling (ChristopherIsherwood)

PhotoNicolai Kornum

 

 
 
www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
7:30pm Mon – Sat
3pm Sat matinee
The Vault
£9/£13/£17
Airline style pricing – the earlier you book the cheaper the tickets
Southwark Playhouse
Shipwright Yard
corner of Tooley and Bermondsey Streets
London SE1 2TF
 
 

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