It’s an unfamiliar space- where in the action of A Woman in Berlin is enacted. The Old Fitz Theatre space is converted by designer Gabrielle Logan into a museum space- black reflective floor, white walls with ornate trim, fringe-in the action.

A bench centre stage. A line of text – a horizon of dates skim around the walls. German.

This is the third play for me this year which has been a script developed from a book. The first “The Gatz” by Elevator Repair Service, the second- Thin Ice’s Next Stage production of “The Duel” and now Penman and Muller’s adaptation of “A Woman in Berlin”.

A Woman in Berlin is the private (so private it is annonymous) account of the Russian invasion of Berlin during World War II which has been published in English, translated by Philip Boehm. The account is a well trodden story- a story of survival during one of the most horrific events in modern history. What makes this story unique, is that it is told from a woman’s perspective- the non-glorious, the non-geographical account- the personal, not the national perspective of war. The woman, an educated and priviledged woman of a Berlin publishing house, notates observations, thoughts and experiences in a diary.

What I find quite interesting about this recent collection of literary works adapted for the stage is just that- the impluse for theatre practitioners to adapt books for the stage… (and this practice can also be observed in the film world to- expect Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet to surface soon, also Mr Darwin’s Shooter….). The challenges the conversion of the artform from novel to performance are many- one is designed for a single and solitary often silent practice, where in the imagination is called upon to create the story for the reader. It is an intimate practice, where by the voice in the readers head becomes the voice of the writer- the intertwining- the intermingling of conciousnesses- the voices become one and the reader empathises or becomes the confidant of the writer. Second, at any time the reader may stand up get a cup of tea, close the book for a while- and perhaps the writer knowing this- writes in chunks that can be delineated in chapters or paragraphs – pause points for the reader: which also then must give structural indicators that it is essential the reader return and consume the next chunk. The fourth, writing can be revisited for clairification….
Not so in the theatre.

For me, this was a highly intellectual experience- a personal and dark story told in the clinical surrounds of what appears to be an art gallery. Perhaps the design intention was to be that of a museum- but this to me felt like a contemporary North American Art gallery… a cold place to walk through- observing. This was the narration of a story which needs to be told as an indicative story but also to ask the question- “when you have lost your pride, your status, your job, steady source of food- is there anything you wouldn’t do to live?” “What does it mean to have a will to live?”

Wonderful questions- worthy of conversation.

Meredith Penman is an elegant performer- she is a beautiful and intelligent young woman. We hear the matter of fact recital of the facts of the situation- and emotionally, this is a very contained performance. A part of me though wanted more from this though, I wanted to see the love of her city, I wanted to know about Berlin before it was broken, I wanted to know more about her before the invasion. And essentially I wanted her described expositional conversation to be shown (enacted) not told… I wanted to empathize with her as a human… I wanted to see the inconsistenceies of her mood post event- not told about it. But I felt largely removed from the Woman in Berlin’s experience… I felt I was watching a recitation of events and thus I wonder what I have gained from the theatricalisation that I could not have received from reading the book?

The creative team on this project do a wonderful job of transforming the gallery space into different areas within the story-with sound design by Russell Goldsmith and a beautiful lighting design by Matt Cox- an artful and beautiful production which exposes a much needed section of our history. And I applaud the team who bravely take a difficult story and bring it to audiences to evoke conversation about the nature of survival.