New Venture Players at the Brentwood Theatre
Hans' House is almost empty. Sparsely furnished. Room for the songs, speeches and snapshots from his distant past. A corner of Germany in a Peterborough semi.
Lin Pollitt's original and affecting play is based around a writing-case. The letters, medals and documents it contained inspired her to piece together an ordinary life, closer than we might think, since, had he lived, Hans would only be in his 80s today.
He was lucky to survive the war, of course. One of the strongest scenes in the play contrasted the cynical dictation of a standard letter with the grief of the mother reading the news of her son's death. A moving characterization from Linda Beeney, matched by Paul Ganney's cold, distant Teutonic father.
Maggie, the author's alter ego, was Laura Fava; the play ends with a wonderfully touching confrontation, as her fascination with the soldier in the writing case [Bob Etheridge as an old man] finally makes him real for her.
The young Hans, Will Fox, had a particularly believable scene with a kindly Tennessee prison guard, faultlessly played by Vernon Keeble-Watson.
The author/director [who also had five other credits in the beautifully designed programme] achieved a thought-provoking blend of research and invention. Most telling of the latter, the turning point when Hans sees his first love [Sara Thompson] disown him as she is herded away with other Jews. His disillusionment provokes him, not to resistance, but to join the SS, in search of Blood and Honour as D-Day dawns.
A remarkable piece of theatre, by no means without its flaws, but just the kind of history/drama that Eastern Angles specialize in, and, in New Venture's painstaking production, with something of the atmosphere and power of the professionals' house style.