The poster for Outside on The Street features a young Aryan man with blood running down his face. Although an eye-catching poster, it is not entirely representative of the show which is, believe it or not, less gritty and more magical. While WWII doesn’t seem the most obvious choice for a fairytale retelling, performed by Invertigo theatre company it not only makes sense but makes for quite a special show. With characters like death, God, the optimist and the River Elbe, the story of a retired, disillusioned German soldier called Beckman was told. After returning to Germany, Beckman searches for meaning and refuge in suicide, love, camaraderie and art, all the while clinging on to his painful wartime memories. Told part in song, amidst a stage full of cages representing the human condition which are expertly manoeuvred throughout, this was certainly inventive theatre-making. It needed a strong and animated cast to make it work, which is, thankfully, what it had.
The choice solely to cast males in this production certainly highlighted its darkly comic elements. Some of the best bits were seeing the boys play the love interest, the woman now inhabiting Beckman’s old family home and the River Elbe maiden. It perhaps darkened the production even further by not allowing any genuine, believable comfort to be drawn from the maternal figures. The cast also flaunted an array of various British accents. Despite being set in Germany, this worked well to bring the story home to us and made each new character fresh, distinct and often amusing.
The fact that Wolfgang Borchert wrote Outside on the Street in just six days after escaping from a prisoner of war camp makes the play’s discussion of art intriguing. When Beckman tells the Colonel and his daughter about his miserable dreams, they suggest turning it into a piece of art. When Beckman approaches a director, however, he is shunned. ‘Art has nothing to do with real life’, Beckman is told. This discussion of the advantages and deceptions of story-telling, along with the sufferer’s need for an audience, is fascinating and runs through every element of the production. ‘We are all in the street, but no one is listening’, Beckman reflects.
However, whilst Outside on the Street is certainly special, it will not be for everyone. The message was hammered home that war is bad and by the tenth monologue from a moody Beckman, he was beginning to sound self-righteous, whiny and melodramatic: ‘This life - is worth less than nothing’, Beckman announces. Some will find this too simple and too much like a kids’ show for adults. The acting is often in pantomime style and there is a great deal of music and physical theatre, which some people will love and some simply won’t. However, when it comes to the talent of the cast and production team, there is no doubt that they are getting this show on the road with zest