This review comes from our Guest Reviewers – thank you Denise and Margaret! Guest reviews are always welcome.
“Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany”.
(The Fringe, Rymill Park, Adelaide, 19 February 2015)
A stellar performance by Ingrid Garner, adapted from her grandmother’s autobiography. Performed on a small set all but bare of props, and with some intermittent sound effects and voice-overs to enhance the sounds of conflict, this young actress drew us deeper and deeper into the daily business of survival in a foreign country at war. She showed us how a family unit can remain strong in such conditions, even with its inevitable disagreements and disruptions. When Berlin was bombed to ruins near the end, and when Germany surrendered, the most heart-rending moment for me came when the young actress threw her arms wide and screamed, “I am fifteen and I am FREE….!” Her depiction of the Russian invasion of Berlin, when the troops were told by their officers: “the city is yours, do what you like”, struck a chord with me as I had once assisted a friend who had been setting down an account of that time, and of the ‘Year Zero’ which followed for the German people.
Eleanor and her family were able to leave Berlin after the surrender and make their way back to America, penniless and living with relatives. When Eleanor visited the old home she experienced no sense of home-coming, only a realisation that from then on she would be spiritually homeless. It was only the old apple-tree that still guarded the few childish treasures which she had buried so many years before. The tiny china angels under the tree, and the memory of a haunting German hymn, remained the only link between her two separate lives. The young actress, Ingrid Garner, had held her audience, all eight of us, spellbound for an hour. The quality of the performance can only ensure increased recognition and audiences in the future.
The play is based on the book by Ingrid Garner’s grandmother – available through Amazon. An American family – Eleanor Ramrath, her brother, a mother of German origin and her father – become stuck in Berlin at the outbreak of World War Two. We see the experience of war from a child’s point of view, watch her grow up and witness the increasing horror.
When everyone is ordered to cover the outside of their buildings with the swastika flag, her father defiantly displays the American one.
His attitude eventually gets him fired with a new baby on the way.
As Berlin is bombed and handed over to the approaching Russians, Eleanor avoids rape by a Russian soldier when her parents brandish a document with a gold, American seal to prove who they are: “American, American!” When Eleanor yells out “I’m fifteen and I’m alive!”, it’s a poignant moment for she’s survived after seeing first hand others that didn’t – the boy who died in her arms, the father who shot his daughters to spare them further suffering.
Ingrid Garner’s one woman show started at five in the afternoon. There was an audience of about six people on the day we went. A wooden chest and two chairs were on stage at the beginning of the play.
They were manipulated in different ways throughout the play to fulfil the needs of the story. A small, multimedia screen for family photos and archival material, minimal lighting and audio were used to good effect.
The director, Craig Tyrl’s, theatrical stand was low budget and because the story and performance are so riveting – it works well.
No mean feat for one young actress for one long hour to so few people. Voice, expression, movement and gesture provided constant, familiar, signifiers of American culture.
Her body enabled the performer to inhabit and convey the various members of the family and other characters and bring them to life. That she made them so recognisable in the viewer’s imagination is a testament to her talent.