OUTSIDE ON THE STREET
by Wolfgang Borchert.
Arcola Theatre (Arcola 2) 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL To 4 September 2013.
Runs 1hr No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 3 September.
Nightmare experience in a dream of a production.
In his brief 1945 play Draußen vor der Tür (also known as ‘The Man Outside’) young German playwright Wolfgang Borchert caught the mood of defeated post-war Germany. A progressive anti-Nazi, the author had spent the war years between army and prison, where he kept being sent for acts of irreverence towards the Nazis.
His common-man protagonist, Beckmann, has spent his war in Siberia, returning three years after the battle of Stalingrad to find a defeated Germany, hunger and no-one to welcome him home. His family’s gone, a former officer doesn’t want interrupting, while his wife’s amazed Beckmann steals dry bread to eat.
But this remorseless drama goes beyond reality; when the figure of Death seems to beckon, the river Elbe sends Beckmann back to live on, against his wishes. It’s a struggle encouraged by The Other, but with no sense of warmth. A young woman takes him home, only for him to find a reminder of an horrific war memory there. Life is a worse punishment than death.
Formed only last year, Invertigo Theatre Company make a fine job of all this. Owen Horsley’s production for them reflects his work with Cheek by Jowl in its clean, minimalist approach, and use of moving bodies to shift location and action as part of a seamless continuum.
Designer Simon Anthony Wells provides an anonymous, clashing set of metallic mesh cages, which coalesce into a large obstacle or divide to create various levels for different groupings.
Horsley responds to the material with perception and a clear sense of purpose, steering through Borchert’s cold world and dramatic complexity with admirable clarity, helped by the songs and instrumental accompaniments of Blair Mowat’s characterful if sometimes uncomfortable score. The all-male ensemble keeps realism at bay without parodying female characters.
Amid the ever-shifting people he meets in his nightmarish experience, Paapa Essiedu’s Beckmann retains a sense of identity, refusing to give in to madness or dissolution.
Invertigo’s production has only three performances at the Arcola. The play’s honesty about a man rejected by society, with the production’s vocal and physical strength, means it deserves a longer life.
Death/Giant: Tim Bowie.
Elbe/Girl/Director/Mother: Tom Clegg.
The Other: Sion Alun Davies.
God/Colonel/Mrs Kramer: Steffan Donnelly.
Beckmann: Paapa Essiedu.
Director: Owen Horsley.
Designer: Simon Anthony Wells.
Composer: Blair Mowat.
Company Voice work: Janis Price.