Went to see Lotty’s War at Middlesbrough Theatre, on Friday, a play on the theme of the German occupation of Guernsey. I recently read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on the same subject and the news was full of the story of people from the island of Jersey getting honoured for helping people during the Holocaust so I decided to go on a last minute whim. Kev and I went with Laurie and Nora.
First, Middlesbrough Theatre was easy to get to (Laurie served as satnav) with free parking available right near the theatre. The seats were surprisingly comfortable. Appropriately enough to the evening’s performance, Middlesbrough Theatre was the first architect-designed theatre to be built after the Second World War.
The concession stand sells delicious ice cream from Jersey – we had chocolate and a toffee caramel flavour. I need to find out the brand it was - delicious (even better than the ice cream at the Sage). I definitely want to return, which is good since some people from work want to go see Alfie. It’s a reasonably priced night out.
I realised on the way over that it was actually my first time visiting a small regional theatre.
Now for the play. Lotty’s War is by By Giuliano Crispini. Directed by Iain Davie. Set design by David Crisp. Costume Design by Susannah Tidy. Produced by Giddy Ox. Katie Howell as Lotty, not sure the names of the actors who played General-Major Rolf Bernburg and Ben.
Lotty is 17 at the start of the play, we meet her and her best friend and romantic interest Ben as carefree and playful youths. Her mother and sister leave to England before the occupation and when Guernsey is attacked and her father is killed, she is left alone in her house which is taken over by Nazi General-Major Rolf Bernburg. While other people are referenced by the characters these are the only people in the play. All the action takes place in Lotty’s kitchen.
My companions were amazed by three actors being able to hold their attention for that long and tell a complicated story. There are loads of positive reviews kicking about, calling this a brave play at a time when Britain is occupying two countries and also commending it for exploring a little-known part of history…I wanted it to be better.
This review pretty much sums it up for me though I would blame the writer and the director more than the actors who do what they can with what they’re given.
The first half feels long. At the end of the play it made me question whether, in a meta way, they were trying to give me a little taste of the long years of occupation. There are some interesting ideas in the play about the psychological toll of long term occupation, the ability to identify or understand or love one’s captor, the requirements placed by one’s people or country, and just rewards in the face of survival.
Time going by is marked by the radio news. Unfortunately there are no visuals to back up the sense of time passing so the transformations in the characters can sometimes seem abrupt.
I was concerned that this would be another warm fuzzy Nazi story. While I don’t require that stories about WWII should resemble old school Westerns with a villain in a Black hat and a hero in a White ten gallon hat, and I accept that many Nazis were people in difficult situations, who compartmentalised their lives, I don’t want to ever forget their victims or turn them into bigger victims by the stories that get told.
I also felt that the power difference between a 17 year old girl and a Nazi general in his 40s/50s or so was not written sharply enough. He is civilised and they are portrayed as near equals with equivalent power. (Though in a discussion with a friend he pointed out that in those years that may have been a more reasonable age gap between men and women.)
Overall, I felt there were some interesting ideas and in Neil McEwan’s words in his review they “failed to match ambition to delivery.” I was left wanting a strong editor / director to shape it.
On an amusing note, the Nazi and I, as foreigners shared something in common in the middle of the play. Neither one of us had seen a panto.
Promo video of stills from the play below: