*disclaimer: I was given free tickets to Back to Berlin at The Other Room in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own
Back to Berlin
“inspiring creative production”
Set in 1989 as the Berlin Wall is coming down, Back to Berlin by CB4Theatre tells the story of one man’s journey as he travels back to his home town to witness this historic occassion.
Writer Luke Seidel-Haas explains before the production takes place that this story actually belongs to his father. The company tell us that upon hearing the trasncription of the conversation between father and son, they wanted to make a script out of it. CB4Theatre’s aims as a company are to:
make performance inspired by real people, real events, and always with the vision of challenging the status quo
And this they certainly do.
One of the things I truly loved about this production was that the show knew it was a Fringe show, and didn’t try to be anything else. It breaks the fourth wall on numerous occasions, at the start to tell us that the company has no money which is why the set is made entirely of boxes, to teach the audience about the basic histroy surrounding the Berlin Wall, and during the classic Fringe theatre “party scene”.
This made the atmosphere in the room not only comfortable, but also incredibly enjoyable. The mild interaction that takes place between the performers and audience is something that the company really got right with this show. It was very “Goldilocks” in its essence – not too much, not too little, but just the right amount to make a compelling and deep story still humorous and light-hearted.
The concept of the show was one I particularly found heart-warming and eye-opening. It demonstrated not only how we can identify as one whole nationality, but parts of a nationality also, while others may differ completely. The character of Bernhard struggled at times to always see other people’s perspectives and this raw interpretation of human thinking was refreshing to see on stage.
The sense of belonging to a nationality and national identity that really came through as the play drew to a close was one that I found incredibly touching. The mild racism between East- and West- Berliners was not only very relevant and prominent, but also well performed and really hit home the message of belonging to a community – or not belonging at all.
The production itself was definitely clever. As stated at the beginning of the play, the set was made up of entirely cardboard boxes, but this did wonders for the show. It allowed a very small stage to be turned into multiple different sets, from a TV in a packed attic, to a boat, a train, and of course the wall itself. Possibly my favourite moment in the show was the wall came down; the way each box was chipped away at to leave nothing standing had a real impact on me.
The production also incorporated transcripts from the conversation that writer Luke had with his father. This additionally hit home how real this story was, and not only to one man, but to everyone affected in some way by the historical event. It was a very touching addition to the show.
The final aspect of the production that I loved was that the show was very much made for the setting it was in; a small pub theatre. The actors and creative team managed to make a cosy environment come to life with chaos at the scene during the fall of the wall, yet wonderfully intimate at moments. The actors gave out free beers during the party scene and the whole show ended with a good old fashioned Fringe sing-song. The show knew it was Fringe and didn’t try to be anything but – this was its real charming quality.
However, there were elements of the show that I wasn’t a fan of. The concept – yes, the production and setting – yes, the execution at times, however – no.
I found the writing to be somewhat clumsy and a little lazy; it felt like it could have done with being proof-read a couple more times to really iron out any rough edges. Too many times did sentences have repetition of the same word or phrase that didn’t appear to be chosen for literary or dramatic effect, and more because another word couldn’t be thought of instead, which brought down the professionality of the production. The dialogue at times was quite uninspiring – perhaps due to the nature of the dialogue being mainly narrative rather than active.
Not all of the acting felt entirely professional either and was bordering on amateur at times. Perhaps this could have been due to the Fringe-ness of the show, but either way it didn’t particularly excite me.
I do commend the ensemble team (Frankie-Rose Taylor, Alice Rush and Emily Pearce) for playing multiple roles throughout the performance, and for both humorous and touching moments. Emily Pearce stood out as my favourite performer – especially in one of her roles as the East Berlin mother.
Luke Seidal-Haas has a tricky job in playing his own father and does give a good performance – I wonder if his dad was in to watch?
Despite some minor critiques, I would definitely recommend this production. It is hugely insightful to a crucially important part of history, and if like me – history isn’t your strong point, you will not only learn a lot but be hugely entertained at the first time.
Expect a production that will make you laugh, open your eyes and encourage you to think about your own nationality and how you’d react if that changed overnight – literally. With inspiring creative production, Back to Berlin is a great Fringe show. I look forward to seeing this show take off in the future and see more of what CB4Theatre has to offer.
Playing until 6 March at The Other Room.