A camera’s role is to observe and capture. It is not to interfere, not to interpret, not to embellish.
Such is the role Christopher Isherwood took upon himself when he wrote the Berlin Stories, which served as the basis for I Am a Camera and, later, Cabaret.
If you approach the latest offering from Full Throttle Theatre Company with this in mind, it should come as no surprise that this show has a ‘realness’ we don’t always see on stage. There is no complication-to-resolution story structure, no larger than life characters, no clean-cut romances or tidy little ever-afters. And that, perhaps, is the whole point. Instead, we are led through Christopher Isherwood’s (Jeremy Naughton) observations of the people around him, as they come and go within four walls of a Berlin rooming house just as the Nazi regime is beginning to stir. Chris’ eye turns to Sally Bowles (Paula Mandl), a well-to-do English girl seeking a more exciting life as a dancer in Germany where the insists she is ‘extraordinarily interesting’.
This a dialogue-heavy show and, with the entirety of the play set in a single room, much of the action is only of spoken about and remains unseen. Fortunately, a revolving door of interesting characters helps to move the plot along at an enjoyable pace. There are also many allusions to historical events and people hidden within the dialogue that History buffs will relish.
Of the heavy dialogue – the script is a whopping 130-odd pages long – Jeremy and Paula have the lion’s share and have certainly risen to the challenge. I failed to detect a single dropped line between them and, if it did happen, the audience was none the wiser.
In past outings, Jeremy has consistently shown a knack for immersing himself in his characters’ stories (even in shows where he’s had zero dialogue) and it was such a joy to see him apply this same skill in a role of whopping proportions. The audience entered the performance space to find Christopher already lost in his attempts to pen a second novel and from that moment, to the play’s final sombre line; there was no Jeremy. Only Chris. I’ve often noted that the best acting can be seen in the reacting and, with so much of Christopher’s story being driven by the people around him, it was certainly true in this case.
While Jeremy’s task was so dependent on his reactions, the near-opposite was required of Paula. Described time and time again as ‘insouciant’, Sally Bowles is the epitome of nonchalant. There’s not a blow that will knock her off her feet and Paula played her with control and restraint. Ever bubbly and optimistic, this is an endearing, blissfully ignorant Sally; although I can’t help but wish that the stakes had felt a little higher for Sally at certain points throughout the play.
Jeremy and Paula’s strong performances are supported tremendously by the rest of the cast, most of whom are required to make significant character transformations as the Zeitgeist shifted around them and their worlds darkened. As Fraulein Schneider, Kath Hotschilt’s early warmth and hospitality turn to fear and ignorance. Kath’s German accent is also terrific. Dylan Megaw demonstrates his versatility as an actor in a moving performance as Fritz Wendel – he progresses from arrogant lady-killer to tortured admirer effortlessly and the revelation of Fritz’s true identity in Act Two is powerfully done. This is the best work I’ve seen from Dylan and I’m looking forward to his next move. Similarly, in the role of Natalia, Annika Brice’s progression from cold and entitled to tender and afraid, poignantly illustrated how fear trumped fortune as anti-Semitism gained hold. Less affected by the goings-on across Germany was American socialite, Clive played by Kevin Fujii. Unable to tell his Nazis from his Jews, Clive inflated ego and brash ignorance, make him both charming and grating – a specialty of Kevin’s. As Sally’s mother, Diane Turner brings a wonderful presence that successfully infantilises her daughter.
Director Alan Cooke has done well to breathe life into what could easily be a dull and dreary play. He’s made terrific casting choices, the single-scene set was beautifully pieced together, the space was well utilised, and imaginative blocking prevented the action from becoming too stagnant or repetitive.
There were times that thick accents and the cavernous performance space resulted in large chunks of dialogue being lost to the abyss; although this didn’t greatly impact the audience’s ability to follow the story.
While there were some instances where I think the emotional impact of certain events could have been more fully-formed, there is plenty to keep audiences invested. If you keep an open mind, and don’t go in expecting the glitz and glamour of this play’s musical counterpart, you are sure to enjoy this performance.
Full Throttle Theatre Company’s production of I Am A Camera runs until 29 June 2019. For times and tickets, click here.