Best of The Fringe 2013: Review

A contemporary account of war written just as the ink on the treaty dries is rare, and one written in 6 days after a 360-mile foot journey is even rarer. But Wolfgang Borchert’s "Outside on the Street" has become an important account of the effects of war, the fear and isolation of a returning soldier, Beckmann.

Returning to Hamburg after three years in Siberia, Beckmann finds the city destroyed, another man in his bed, and his parents dead. He is a man ravaged by guilt and trauma who has decided to end his life.

In their fringe debut, theatre company Invertigo have brought a powerful and difficult production to the festival. Their biggest challenge was perhaps the bleakness of the play and how they would realize some of the themes. Director Owen Horsley’s production is smart and moves at a great pace, allowing the audience to fully engage with Beckmann’s story. 

The all-male cast seamlessly flashes through the variety of characters and accents with ease and believability. They breathe life into the multitude of characters in a way that balances the horror and comedic aspects of the production without weakening the effect of the play. There is a beautiful emotional undertone to these scenes that is never lost on the cast. Notably, Tom Clegg delivers all of The Girl's references to Beckmann being 'Mr. Fish' or growing gills beautifully in the first scene between Beckmann and The Girl.

Paapa Essiedu is convincing as Beckmann, and as he continues in his struggle to try and make sense of this new word, one begins to really feel for him. The scene between Beckmann and Mrs. Kramer, Steffan Donnelly, sums up the dark humour and harsh truths that he now faces. The offhand way Mrs. Kramer informs him of his parents' deaths and what they had endured during the war is tragic and delivered to great effect.

Sion Alun Davies brings a sincerity that is subtle but intense to The Other. There isn’t a moment between Davis and Essiedu that doesn’t illustrate the positivity of living, of life, that The Other is trying to show Beckmann. It almost feels as though The Other is aware of Beckmann’s inevitable outcome but refuses to accept it and pushes him to try and choose life.

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"Invertigo has made the right choice in going more subtle than overbearing and creating a more bleaker world than needed."

The set consists of several metal cages and a few props, mainly clothes. The sparseness of the set allows the stage to not overshadow the dialogue, with lighting and music adding some deft touches. The cast morphs the cages into different spaces, cleverly choreographed, which adds fluidity. 

The play feels like a modern-day fable as Beckmann’s story begins to unfold and the production flitters through the scenes as if pages were being turned. This is furthermore punctuated by the way the actors move on stage, lifting the iron cages’ and creating new spaces. Beckmann constantly mentions being in Siberia, and the glasses he wears throughout the play are a constant reminder of where he has come from and what he has seen. But to others, they are comical, and there is perhaps little or no real sympathy or understanding, apart from The Other, that gives him reason to live.

As Beckmann heads once more towards the river, The Other painfully tries to have him walk up the street, but Beckmann is determined. By the end, he is alone.

It would be too easy, and perhaps a little too easy, for me to demand that the play could have been darker. If it had been then, I fear that the natural humour of the play would have been lost. Invertigo has made the right choice in going more subtle than overbearing and creating a more bleaker world than needed. To this end, they have produced a powerful and effective piece of theatre with a gifted cast who are each a credit to a production that rose to the challenge, and the result is a rewarding piece of theatre.

For a debut, Invertigo couldn't have asked for anything better.