Head to the Bridge House Theatre, Penge for an evening of delightful storytelling and charming performances in Alan Booty's two-hander, The Loaf.
Delightful storytelling and charming performances
The play is inspired by the tale Das Brot by Wolfgang Borchert. Born in 1921, he is known as one of the founders of Trümmerliteratur, translated as literature of the ruins. The genre sought to realistically depict the spiritual and physical state of Germany immediately after the Second World War. He was an outspoken critic of National Socialism and when peace came he wrote prolifically for two years, until his death from liver failure at the age of 26 in 1947.
Rationing was a feature of post-war Germany as it was in the UK. In Borchert’s home city of Hamburg, where the play is set, bread allowances were in place until 1950. The play features Hermann (Alan Booty), a postman who walks many kilometres everyday on his rounds and builds up an unsatiated appetite. His wife, Martha (Joanna Karlsson), keeps a well-regulated home, but one night, overcome by hunger at 2.30, Hermann sneaks out of bed to steal a slice of bread. He makes a noise in the kitchen that wakes his wife who gets up and almost catches him in the act. He will not admit to what he was up to, but she sees the loaf on the table, removed from the bread bin.
From her questioning and as a knowing lady, she would clearly like Hermann to just own up to what he was doing. He, however comes up with stories of rats, cats a dog and burglars as possible sources of the noise, all of which are improbable. She persists but is too polite to simply confront him with his crime and the conversation wanders into concerns about her ageing mother in Berlin, whom she hasn’t seen for several years, and reminiscences of times past and childhood memories.
Much of the broadening of the play from the original story comes from research done in Hamburg. Amongst others, he met with the administrator at the English Theatre of Hamburg, where he has performed, who invited him to meet her mother who had lived in Hamburg during the War and witnessed the entry of the British Army in 1945. The heaviness of the period is borne by Karlsson in her measured words, soft tones, reflective disposition and concerns for others. In her pensive storytelling she captures how Matha is haunted by the ‘old days’, and guilt-ridden about silly childhood misdemeanours. Hermann has his stories too, but Booty balances the dark mood by making him a man who can see the funny side of things. He brings moments of amusement and does an entertaining song in German made famous by the actor and singer of the period, Hans Albers, and dance routine to go with it. He dips into the alternative market for potatoes and onions giving an insight into the wheelings and dealings of the day, which he finds amusing, but Martha does not. The text has intermittent expressions in German, of which Booty was formerly a teacher. These add significantly to creating the sense of place.
The set and costumes by Rose Balp are convincingly authentic, with a vintage breadboard from 1939 and period knife along with blue trimmed white enamel kitchenware: a washing bowl, a jug and mugs, a waste-bin, a bucket and, of course the bread bin, She even acquired a pattern from that time to knit the slippers they wear. Subtle lighting by Venus A Raven adds to the night time setting and the mood of the piece.
In one memorable moment Martha expresses the Vergangenheitsbewältigung or coming to terms with the past. "Life is going on... We have to look to the future. But, every now and then, I feel I cannot get on with the present. Because first, I have to come to terms with the past." There are probably many millions around the world saying something similar today, so while this play has a very particular focus, the couple and their situation have universal significance.