The curtain is already up at the very start and the scene is a radio station with live band. It is Berlin, 1939.
It is interesting for writer of this new play, Peter Arnott to pinpoint the positioning of Jazz music for those living and working under Third Reich rule at this time. The jazz scene was by now well established worldwide and Europe was no exception. Jazz, however, was of deep set American origin and had been written, toured and performed by black and Jewish people particularly, so this was something that was always going to be conflicting with the racist ideology of the National Socialist Party.
There was little room for sentimentality, in those dark days, when many had to watch their back for fear of recrimination in regard to their positioning in life, and of whom they chose to keep company with; and we are often reminded of this fact in the story line. Another story thread is the fast development of an ‘against all the odds’ love affair between the already married (for convenience rather than love) Lala Anderson (Miranda Wilford), and American broadcaster in Berlin – Billy Constant (Richard Conlon).
People have used various art forms to channel messages since time in memorial, so songs like ‘Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf’ which features, may seem like an innocent nursery rhyme with a jaunty tune, but was a definite smokescreen to rile and mock Hitler when performed and aired. But if the play is to inform us of anything, it tells us of the conscious decision made NOT to quash this particular music genre altogether by removing it from the airwaves in Germany, and that, instead, it was made to be more acceptable to the German State. So we learn that the State themselves took control and used the music’s popularity and its communication outlets to their own ends, while being particular in ensuring that band leaders and band members fitted a specific demographic profile they set out for themselves.
By the time war was announced, the discrimination of the Jewish people in Germany had been happening for a few years, so there are subjects, within a subject, to base a full length play on. So I was left considering if there is enough said and done within the script itself, and whether enough theatrical strategy has been followed through to do the subject justice.
I am still mulling over these things in my mind the morning after, and, strangely, I find it hard to put my finger on how and why I’m left feeling indifferent about this piece of work.
A good few positives: to be able to acknowledge the versatility of musician and actor, Clara Darcy having seen her in a previous incarnates is one, and to note the expert characterisation of Otto Stenzl by stage actor Chris Andrew Mellon, is another. The Art Deco set design is fantastic with lots of visible evidence of the hard work undertaken in that regard, and lastly, but by no means least, the live band of course, quality-driven, music played by members of a talented cast. Fifteen songs altogether, include Minnie The Moocher and You’re Driving Me Crazy.
At The Belgrade Theatre until September 27th – Details here
Reviewer, Debra Hall attended press night at The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry on Tues 16 September. Review also published at Remotegoat stage
Photography by Robert Day