I AM A CAMERA
by John van Druten,
Southwark Playhouse (The Vault) Shipwright Yard corner of Tooley St and Bermondsey St SE1 2TF To 22 September 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 September.
After this, and their previous Southwark production, Summer and Smoke Folie a deux Productions is a company to be watched.
Before the Nazis took power in 1933 Berlin offered a socially liberated lifestyle contrasting Depression England’s social restrictions, and a gay counter to Parisian ooh-la-la, attracting, among others, Christopher Isherwood.
His stories, their intended technique indicated in the title of John van Druten’s 1951 adaptation of Isherwood’s Berlin stories, are available to read. Van Druten’s play became the source for Cabaret which exists in varied forms as stage and film musical, the cinema version remarkable as a musical that ends by stopping the music and leaving it to the visuals.
Why go back, then, to the middle-man and his bedsit version of a conventional drawing-room drama: poor writer ekes a living teaching, develops attachment to a singer who comes from further up the British class system, till mummy comes and removes daughter? With only light political content, and Berlin itself a very minor offstage character, it might be taken for a love-story, though with one participant’s sexuality discreetly veiled?
One good reason is having Rebecca Humphries as Sally Bowles, based on someone Isherwood met in Berlin and transformed in a way suggesting his camera had a distorting lens. Whether Sally is the role of Humphries’ lifetime or a display of comic fireworks she fizzes and flames with irrepressible irresponsibility in a way linking 1932 and now.
It’s a vivacious picture of someone living on momentary instinct, and sensing it. Rushes of keenness darken the voice, panic’s kept at bay by energy and the speed of an uncertain tightrope walker running to avoid falling. There are sudden rages when frustrated, smiles and a tone of vocal certainty covering the need to enlist Christopher in her latest scheme. Only mother’s arrival to take Sally home, and her transformation by wearing the sober green of conventional dress seem to dampen her.
Harry Melling’s Christopher is a quiet contrast, the considered, conscientious writer who can’t avoid flashes of temper faced with this volatile tempest of a temper. Anthony Lau’s production is balanced by neatly-keyed performances throughout, and reflects Berlin in the jazz trio who contribute to a Bowles-like frenzy in the hurtling scene shifts.
Christopher Isherwood: Harry Melling.
Fraulein Schneider: Joanne Howarth.
Fritz Wendel: Freddie Capper.
Sally Bowles: Rebecca Humphries.
Natalie Landauer: Sophie Dickson.
Clive Mortimer: Oliver Rix.
Mrs Watson-Courtneidge: Sherry Baines.
Director: Anthony Lau.
Designer: James Turner.
Lighting: Nicolai Kornum.
Costume: Sarah Booth.
Voice coach: Paul Hill.
Make-up: Ria Biggerstaff.
Assistant director: Becky Catlin.