Premiere production of a new play by Stephen Mollett
Hagen has cut off from his East German past and raised his daughter in Sussex, where he runs a fruit farm.
When his daughter returns home with her German boyfriend, Hagen is hurled back into the nightmare of Stasi imprisonment. Terrible suspicions torture him. Surely he's safe among his strawberry beds and blueberry fields? Will he ever escape his interrogator? And will he lose his daughter?
A gripping, emotional and tender family drama.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|The Interrogator||James Andrews|
|Stage Manager||Sharman Callam|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Bernie Lomas|
|Lighting Design||Mike Jones|
|Lighting Operation||Mike Jones|
|Sound Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Sound Operator||Beth Howard|
|Set Design and Artwork||David Penrose|
|Set Construction||Julie Burt-Wood and members of the Company|
|Front of House||Ingrid Corrigan|
I lived in Budapest when Hungary was still under Communist control and later wrote 3 audio dramas set in that fascinating city. I went on to write dramas on very different subjects but recently I was drawn back to the Iron Curtain, this time to East Germany and the Stasi. I wanted to set the play in Sussex - on a PYO farm similar to one where I pick blueberries and blackcurrants - but in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. A German man thinks he has cut off from his past, fifteen years after living here, but trauma returns.
Until I researched the play I had never appreciated how massive the system of surveillance was in East Germany – one in six people were involved in reporting on others. I visited Berlin with my son and we were astonished, angered and moved when we visited the former Stasi HQ and the remand prison of Hohenschönhausen. Anna Funder encounters residents of that time, including a Stasi interrogator, in her book 'Stasiland'. Memoirs I read revealed extraordinary stories, and the lingering damage inflicted on people by such repressive regimes.
When we first started rehearsing this play, we discussed and imagined life behind the Berlin wall. We also had plenty of fun in rehearsals – I never knew the children's game of Grandmother's Footsteps could be so scary. As the writer I came with strong images of the action in my head. But what the actors find is crucial. This small cast has been wonderful at discovering and inhabiting their characters.
Mollett's play – an economic, tight three-hander – is worthy of note and should be more widely known. It revolves around Hagen, an East German citizen now living in England where he maintains a farm on behalf of its owner. His daughter returns from a visit to a now-united Germany bringing with her a new lover who triggers something in Hagen – a wave of negativity – and the play explores his subsequent actions in light of his past experiences, the secrets he's kept and his daughter's changing attitude to her father.
Roger Niven as Hagen gives a taut performance. In the flashback interrogation-scenes we – like his interrogator – can't tell truth from fantasy. It's a performance steeped in distrust and fear which motivates his every action in the play. Good work.
Erin Offord as daughter Rosa is self-assured and convincingly prepared to turn her back on her father in support of her misunderstood and mistrusted lover.
James Andrews in the dual roles of both Julius – Rosa's new boyfriend – and the Stasi interrogator in the flashback scenes – plays both roles identically. This is no criticism of Andrews; it's exactly what's required. Can we trust Julius, as Rosa clearly does, or is he the treacherous, murderous agent Hagen suspects him to be? The blandness of both characters (again – no criticism of the writing or the performance intended) works beautifully; it confuses, it bewilders, it misleads. It also means that when Andrews has a throwaway comedy line, it works beautifully.
Directorially it could, perhaps, have moved further up and down the emotional scale and on occasions it becomes ploddy; more attack could shift this up a gear. Some thought should be given to the scene where Hagen attacks Julius, too. On opening night this was simply not convincing.
But – again – Bench are bringing something unknown to local audiences – and that's always to be applauded.
Support it if you can.
The News, James George, February 2023