REVIEW: Beethoven in Stalingrad

*****

 

By Isabella Fraser

The concept of this play is fascinating – the idea of letters sent by German soldiers during WWII that never reached their destination; instead German censors, to find out the soldiers’ opinions of the war, confiscated them. The Beethoven part of the play stems from one letter which discusses hearing Beethoven being played on the street during Christmas 1942 and the impact that had on the letter writer. This is not about apportioning blame to any act of war; it is about recognizing the fears and dreams that these men had, the damage that was caused by the war and how music can remind us all of the beauty that can exist in the world.

Unfortunately, the production has not managed to bring to fruition this premise. With one actor and one musician, it is not quite in a cohesive state yet; the differentiation between the twelve soldiers mentioned in the promotional material is not clear either in the direction or the performance. It would have helped the audience to have a way of seeing the individual men through a change in the actor’s physicality or accent, or by the use of change of lighting status. There is a change of clothing but from the way in which it tied into the text, the impression was that this was due to a change in season rather than person.

Underscoring the entire text is music – the Beethoven of the title, performed by a musician in modern day dress. Unfortunately this detracts from the text, rather than enhancing it; it would help to have a differentiation between the emotion in the text and its correlation to the music. Additionally, it would have felt less jarring to have the musician dressed in the same time period of the actor as this takes place in a small venue and the musician is clearly visible the whole time. At present, the music gives a lovely sound but the meaning is lost until the very end scene where it is allowed to be heard without the text, lit beautifully to allow focus on the sound. If this direction had been followed for the remainder of the piece it would have been extremely effective as it was clear what hearing the music meant at this conjunction in the text.

There is much potential with this play however: the premise is an excellent one and the ideas are good; if the direction is clarified and the music integrated more sparingly, then it could turn out to be the emotive piece it promises to be.

Beethoven in Stalingrad runs until 31 August at Spotlites @ 12:15. Running time is 45 mins.

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