Heaven in Berlin at Testbed1
In an off-beat production that invites audiences to not only witness but also physically explore the narrative, Jamie Harper’s Heaven in Berlin by Ciaran McConville is a unique and creative experience that allows you to understand the oppression of mid-1980s Berlin by reliving it at Testbed1, Battersea.
When a renowned British rock musician abandons his life in London in the hopes of escaping personal hardship, he quickly finds solace in Berlin. A popular lecturer at the local university, he falls for a colleague but the bliss Brian feels is short-lived. Torn apart by ambition, selfishness and an iron-clad government intent on controlling its people, his family’s only hope is the help of an enemy.
Ida Bonnast is superbly cast, and magnificent as Ida, with the perfect combination of exuberance and emotion. She is charming and seductive yet brings tears to our eyes with the weight of her words. James Meunier brings a spine-tingling supporting performance as the government official, instilling fear as he viciously describes the way in which Ida will be punished if she is unsuccessful in her assignment.
With imaginative use of space, sets, effects and live musical accompaniment, the atmosphere grabs your attention and keeps you immersed in the story. As you walk the hall of the dimly lit, foggy venue, the tableaux are haunting. With a young man at an ill woman’s bedside to the left, and an older male traveller with luggage on the right, it’s difficult to know what to make of what you see. As the ensemble meander about the room in trench coats and vintage suits, they lead you from scene to scene, casually drifting as if they too are simply onlookers.
Although the promenade style of the piece is engaging and dynamic, the blocking isn’t always ideal for large groups eager to take in the scene. If you are not quick to make it to the front of the crowd, short key acts can easily be missed.
With intriguing controversial content and a talented live musician on bass playing along to a musical score that truly fits the tone of the piece, the experience is surreal – like waking from a dream in contemplation of your faith.
Photos: Eliza Power
Heaven in Berlin is at Testbed1 until 23rd October 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre company’s website here.