Written by Duncan Kidd
Directed by Steve Small
The tales of those suffering under the Third Reich are relatively commonplace, thankfully documenting and preserving the millions of lives lost, upturned, or otherwise forgotten. But less discussed and equally deserving are those who opposed the atrocities of the Nazi party. We are perhaps familiar with some of the tales of protest, of published rebuttal and the finality of those who ultimately had their lives stolen from them for promoting the truth.
Likely less known for some, tragically, are the actions of Sophie Scholl – the young university student who was critical in the formation and publication of ‘The White Rose’, a non-violent, intellectual resistance group to the Nazi Party led by five students. Producing leaflets which offered genuine accounts of life on the front and the corruption and murders of the Third Reich, the group became a target – and unfortunately for Sophie and her brother Hans, their methods of producing accurate accounts to the masses were met with the full force of oppressive fascism.
Arrested, detained, and interrogated, Duncan Kidd’s The Storm Lantern takes place within the prison cells in which Sophie and her friend (and somewhat unwilling associate) Gisela Schertling (Rebecca Forsyth) find themselves within, following Sophie’s arrest at the University campus after being detained by a Nazi-sympathising Janitor. One kept on either side of Katie Inne’s split set, designed to evoke the prison cells and the university and streets of Germany, gradually the light of hope extinguish for the women, their fate? Well, that’s in their hands.
As Robert Mohr, a high-ranking member of the Gestapo reminds them – they need only provide some information to secure their freedom. And so, what follows is a three-hand piece on the sanctity of trust, and the perverse nature of propaganda and intimidation. What stems from Kidd’s writing is a crucible of emotional turmoil and thought, one audiences cannot help but place themselves within. We may suspect what we would do in similar stances but can never know until that day (hopefully never) happens.
To request a performer capture not only an authentic sense of trepidation but of the complete despondency associated with those living under the Third Reich is a tough ask – not only from the physicality of the role but the mental and psychological turmoil of respecting the historical integrity. Evie Mortimer undertakes a monumental role, a vital figure of history whose waning reverence is in dire need of rekindling. Mortimer, along with Rebecca Forsyth, captures the innocence of it all, of the everyday life of a German civilian, and their chemistry together is more bitter-sweet as the production moves forward.
The power of resilience demonstrated by Mortimer is exceptional, together with Anderson’s Mohr, the pair conjure intense scenes of interrogation, Mortimer never allowing themselves to be on the back foot, even when their character is facing the end of their options. It’s mesmeric and adequately painful, but never to the detriment of Mortimer, who maintains a grace, sincerity, and yes, even humour, which pervades the grimness of the script and leaves behind a sliver of hope for the future.
Equally, in a parallel vein, to direct a young performer to source an ounce of, dare we say, recognition in an officer of the Gestapo, takes tremendous delicacy and Anderson achieves the near-impossible task of demonstrating the mortality of the monstrous. Their authority is never called into question, a powerful presence, even when playing a more ‘personable’ role in their power dynamic with Forsyth, a more timid character, who conjures a truly unnerving atmosphere of fear.
The only issue is that in broadening the scope, the depravity, or indeed fear of the production slips somewhat, but is reclaimed in Anderson’s final moments as Mohr’s decisions not to follow Scholl’s final wishes are revealed. Indeed – the pathos and pain that Anderson communicates in their solitary reflection of Mohr’s actions are complex and handled remarkably under Small’s direction. But if anything, the cast proves their merit in carrying the darkness of Kidd’s script with them, but there seems to be a concern of pushing the envelope too far – to go that ounce further, but in reacting to this, dims The Storm Lantern’s presence from what it could be when fully realised.
Kidd’s touching analogy of the titular Storm Lantern offers a reinforcement of the tireless pursuits to stand against the seemingly unconquerable. And that the strength in the lantern, in the people, is not solely in their ability to keep a light going for guidance, but in their strength to rekindle this flame once the strong winds of oppression have died. Strange Town’s The Storm Lantern is the first commissioned piece by Strange Town as a part of The Future is Unwritten, and is a tremendous opening of the tome of history to reflect the present, with spectacular performances which find nuance within the darkness.
A Guiding Brilliance In The Darkness
Further information relating to both the production, and Strange Towns may be obtained on their website here.
Photo Credit – Andy Catlin