Belgrade Theatre, Coventry Wednesday 17th September, 2014
Berlin, 1939 and American journalist Bill Constant (Richard Conlon) finds his radio broadcasts heavily vetted by nasty Nazi Heinrich Hinkel (Paul Lincoln) and the woman he loves is married to the studio’s band leader. It’s familiar territory with Constant a kind of Isherwood figure. He is our narrator and witness to the tightening stranglehold the Nazis have on their own country as well as the atrocities they perpetrate across Europe.
Jazz music is banned – until someone comes up with the idea to broadcast it to the UK, as a way of undermining British morale – the kind of bonkers idea lunatics on the far right believe will work.
And so the show is full of wonderful music, played live by an excellent band supplemented by cast members who also play instruments. Particularly impressive is Clara Darcy’s Anita who can play a mean trumpet. The music is in stark contrast to the realities of war and life in a crackpot regime, but because we as the audience know the music is being used as a weapon, we know we’re not supposed to enjoy it – especially when Charly Schwedler (Jonny Bower) a handsome young Nazi who changes the lyrics for added racism and anti-semitism.
During the second act, there is no applause. We don’t want to sound like we support the Nazis.
It’s much darker in the second act too. The strong ensemble, directed by Hamish Glen, play some tense and powerful moments, and there is a sense of the evil permeating their society as well as the effect it has on their personal lives, thanks to an intelligent script by Peter Arnott.
The splendid cast includes: Miranda Wilford as Lala the singer in the love triangle with Constant and Lutz Templin (Tomm Coles); Chris Andrew Mellon is dispossessed club owner and comedian Otto Stenzl, who has an extremely uncomfortable set, cracking Jew jokes and baiting the Gestapo; Paul Lincoln is superbly insidious as smarmy tinpot dictator Hinkel; The traitor Lord Haw Haw appears (Callum Coates) to spread his own brand of poison. Coates is chilling and vile in his portrayal.
The music continues, but it is tainted for us now. Beautifully played, we cannot let it seduce us into applauding evil.
And so it’s a night of contrasts. We enjoy the performers and love the music but the story the show documents is sickening. It’s a salutary reminder why right wing lunacy should never be in power and, sadly, there are still right wing lunatics among us.