In 1968 East and West Germany were far from united. The wall had been in place for seven years and many attempts to break over or under it had and were taking place. East Germans had been sold a dream of equality that transpired to be far from the reality they experienced.
Tunnels vividly portrays a moment when ordinary people took extraordinary actions.
Which is where Tunnels, by Further Theatre at the [email protected], begins. Writer Oliver Yellop plays Freddie with Lewis Bruniges as Paul. They are cousins stuck between a tragic past and an uncertain future, halfway through burrowing a tunnel they hope will reach the U-Bahn without bringing any unwanted attention to their plan from the authorities. Their aim is to escape the boredom, the low employment prospects and the endless intrusion of the dreaded Stasi into their lives and find a way to freedom and a new life in West Germany. The only thing in their way is a 20-metre ‘death strip’, hundreds of landmines and the East German secret police.
Yellop holds that "Tunnels captures the claustrophobia of life under the East German regime – and places the cousins in a limbo between two competing worlds, while physically digging through the archaeological remains of the past events that brought them into being”. Director Colin Ellwood translates this into both a physical and emotional struggle that embraces the complexity of life during this period.
The relationship between Bruniges and Yellop is built through performances of remarkable intensity. During one fight scene Freddie holds a spade to Paul’s throat and the charged atmosphere between the pair becomes palpable as they bitterly argue over Freddie’s girlfriend's infidelity. Paul's detailed and compassionate conversation with Freddie explaining how he had once made it over the wall is deeply moving. However, his freedom was short lived and the description of the torture he subsequently endured leaves Freddie emotionally scared. Listening to the fate of the guard dog who failed to smell him also leaves a chilling impression. Live music by singer songwriter Benji Hooper accompanies the narrative and heightens these moments of tension.
The Berlin Wall divided more than a country when it was built; it broke up families, relationships and trust at a time when no one actually knew who was who anymore and spies were everywhere. Through the actions of just two men, Tunnels vividly portrays a moment when ordinary people took extraordinary actions.