This 70 minute, two hander play has matured a lot since I saw it last year at Jack Studio. Playwright Alan Booty, who also plays Hermann and directs, has found ways of making it seem much more natural and less awkward.
We’re in Hamburg, two years after the end of World War Two. Food is in very short supply. Hermann wakes in the night and, unbearably hungry, sneaks into the kitchen for a piece of bread although the small loaf has to “last until Thursday”. His wife, Martha (Joanna Karlsson) hears him moving about and comes to see what’s up. What follows is a long conversation in which we learn about privation, loss, fear, life under the Nazis and the relationship between a couple who’ve been married for 39 years.
Booty finds a child-like impishness in Hermann – using silly jokes as a way of covering his character’s refusal to succumb to despair under awful circumstances. Karlsson, meanwhile, gives us a Martha who is variously anxious, decent, caring, maternal and desperately worried about her own elderly mother in Russia-controlled Berlin. Her active, finely nuanced listening while Hermann is talking beautifully done. They, are, in this revised version of the play a totally convincing couple. Apparently childless, they have lived through two world wars. They have only each other and we sense that, despite occasional exasperation they will live on peacefully together. She is distressed, for example, that he has sold his father’s ring for a few vegetables and a small bottle of schnapps but later he tells her, for the first time, how much he hated his father. They are still learning about each other – with tenderness and affection.
The dialogue now flows believably because Booty has dropped any attempt to mimic German syntax in English. Instead, both characters speak in gentle, quite subtle but well sustained German accents and the dialogue is peppered with German words which seem to lie happily in the context. As a device, it works well. And the pacing is adeptly managed.
Rose Balp has done a good job with evocative props and costumes too. The bread board is vintage and in period, a fresh loaf is placed on it at every performance and she knitted the slippers to a 1940s pattern.
I enjoyed this reworking of a thoughtful play very much. I’m, glad moreover that a decision was made to open and close with Beethoven’s piano sonata Op 27 no 2 (“Moonlight”) because it sets the scene at several levels. C# minor connotes the poignant but ultimately positive mood beautifully.
First published by Sardines https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/the-loaf-2/