Monday, February 17, 2020

'Alone in Berlin' by Hans Fallada, translated and adapted by Alistair Beaton

17 February 2020

I had heard of the true story of an ordinary German couple who developed a model for small-scale passive resistance to the Nazi regime in the early years of the Second World War – leaving postcards in public places across Berlin encouraging the people to question their Government’s actions. Hans Fallada’s novel ‘Alone in Berlin’, which fictionalises their story, was described by Primo Levi as “the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis”. The fact that this novel, originally published in 1947, entered the bestseller list again three years ago is a worrying commentary on our times. And watching Alistair Beaton’s new stage adaptation of ‘Alone in Berlin’ at the Royal Theatre in Northampton last Thursday, there was a noticeable audience reaction to lines about Nazi Germany which seemed equally applicable to Brexit Britain (“Nobody minds being lied to any more”). James Dacre’s production (for the Royal & Derngate Northampton, York Theatre Royal and Oxford Playhouse) features a wonderful rectilinear exaggerated-perspective set by Jonathan Fensom onto which Charles Balfour’s lighting and animated illustrations by Jason Lutes create stunning effects. It’s a bleak tale which explores the different ways people find to cope with a totalitarian system with which they disagree but have little chance of changing. Denis Conway and Charlotte Emmerson are excellent as Otto and Anna Quangel, showing how it is possible to be simultaneously brave, scared, naive, cowardly and determined.

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