Giuliano Crispini's tale of occupied Guernsey during the Second World War took us into a realm of uncomfortable compromise, unease and treachery, while also showing us glimpses of humanity and loving behaviour
Theatre Royal, Windsor
Monday, May 16
Giuliano Crispini's tale of occupied Guernsey during the Second World War took us into a realm of uncomfortable compromise, unease and treachery, while also showing us glimpses of humanity and loving behaviour.
With a cast of just three, and the action taking place within the confines of Lotty's kitchen, we have an occupying German general Rolf (Ian Reddington, also known as EastEnders' Tricky Dicky), an islander who resists all interaction with the enemy in the form of Lotty's young beau, Ben De Carteret (Mat Ruttle) and Lotty herself, who has little room for movement when the General takes control of her homestead. Having just lost her father in the war, Lotty is determined to keep hold of her family's tomato nursery.
This was an exploration of the coping mechanisms that result when someone has been reduced to the position of servant to a man who is part of a sinister and hateful regime. And yet, we the audience are invited to have some sympathy for the devil when Rolf relates the effects of the Great War and the Treaty of Versailles on a poverty-stricken Germany. He is a cog in a machine, potentially a disposable one at that, but actions have consequences. As events unfold, the harsh reality of war starts to tear Lotty apart at the seams, for while she is starving but able to obtain rations and even the odd luxury item such as chocolate, a worse fate awaits many others.
There was a great device for showing the passing of time, where Rolf would appear in the kitchen with a curt "Morning," demanding a breakfast coffee, then after a pause swiftly loop round the back stairs and table with another "Morning..." and so on, which was used successfully in several fashions. The claustrophobic and tense atmosphere was aided by the sound effects, including a constant background whoosh of waves, some fluctuating radio stations (with wartime songs, static and illicit broadcasts) and a sinister clang at appropriate moments.
As Ben flits in and out of Lotty's kitchen (alternating with the general's returns), updating her with news of spies, casualties and the resistance, he implores her to do her bit. Lotty matures and adjusts to her wartime status, and it soon becomes apparent that she has softened and there is even talk of marriage to her German general, with whom she now shares a bed, after four years of occupation. But there are more back stories going on.
This play provided a lot of food for thought, and indeed the author has said that his message is: "what would I do in this situation?" Lotty is a thoughtful, sympathetic character who is pushed to her limits, who does her best to get through the mundanity and the horrors of war. As Rolf starts to win her affections, at one point giving her the gift of a red dress (which turns out to be quite poignant), she puts her situation to good use, as she has picked up a lot of German and can translate, which eventually leads to a tense denouement. This was an intriguing set of circumstances which gave us plenty to chew over, as Lotty stayed loyal to her home to the last.