Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Woman In Berlin ***1/2

A Woman In Berlin 
Adapted by Janice Muller and Meredith Penman from A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous
Tower Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, Southbank, Melbourne, November 18 to 28, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

The brutality of the Russian forces that marched into Berlin in 1945 is well known. Estimates suggest that Russian soldiers raped more than 100,000 women. Janice Muller (director) and Meredith Penman (actor) adapted the anonymous diary, A Woman In Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City, published in the 1950’s and condemned by conservatives.

It is a harrowing story by an unknown woman. Penman, with her Teutonic appearance and 1940’s clothing, captures the nightmarish scenes of abuse that this woman experienced and observed. Her journal covers the a few months from the arrival of the Russians on April 20, 1945.

The direction is simple and discreet, the adaptation unsensational, the stage design (Gabrielle Logan) uncluttered, dramatic soundscape and the lighting evocative (Matt Cox). Penman initially is an observer moving around an empty, white-walled space reminiscent of a war museum. German phrases are scrawled around the walls and a resonant, German voice over tells parts of the story.

This initial gentleness shifts to quiet anxiety as Penman transforms into the German woman and narrates her story. With the women and girls in her building, she moves into the basement and awaits the arrival of the Russians. Anxiety turns to fear when the soldiers arrive and roam the streets like predators. The full horror is clear to the woman when the first rape occurs. From that moment, the women are all prey and the rapes occur frequently.

We are touched by the woman’s desire to save the young girls by sacrificing herself to the soldiers. We quail at the pain and humiliation that the Russians visited upon her and understand her choice to seek out “a lone wolf”, a high ranking officer who could feed and protect her until the danger passed. We feel her pain and shame when her partner rejects her as a whore when he returns from the front.

This is a disturbing but very beautifully executed telling of the dreadful experiences of these survivors of war.

By Kate Herbert

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