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Play creates suspense but fails to deliver climax
Culture & Life

Play creates suspense but fails to deliver climax

3 min. 09.11.2012 From our online archive
Suspense is not, Hitchcock ruled, not knowing what is going to happen. Suspense is knowing what is going to happen and wishing that it wouldn't. On that count Dea Loher's Olga's Room, directed by Samuel Miller for Speaking In Tongues at Neumünster Abbey currently, is a play with a fair shot at being suspenseful.

By Graham Cleverley

Suspense is not, Hitchcock ruled, not knowing what is going to happen. Suspense is knowing what is going to happen and wishing that it wouldn't. On that count Dea Loher's Olga's Room, directed by Samuel Miller for Speaking In Tongues at Neumünster Abbey currently, is a play with a fair shot at being suspenseful, since we know in advance, thanks to the program, that she is historically bound to be extradited back to Nazi Germany by her Brazilian jailers, there to die in a concentration camp as a Soviet agent (the program has 'freedom fighter' which isn't quite the same thing).

Successfully building suspense requires something more than a fixed destination. It needs tension building towards a climactic moment of resolution: it doesn't need a climax that becomes a let-down, as happens here in an, admittedly very well done, sequence, in which offstage footsteps are heard advancing toward her cell against a background crescendo of drumming prison inmates, including Olga's cell-mates on stage. Expectation grows. Suddenly it stops.

But nothing happens.

At least nothing but a return to the admittedly abnormal normality of life in the cell. A similar misfire happens towards the end, when Olga, back in Germany and reviewing her concentration camp incarcerations, says “I am Olga. I am alone. This is my room.” Of all the exit lines in all the world nothing could be more perfect than that, but instead she just goes on talking to no significant purpose, and the audience gets no real clue the play is over until it dawns that no-one is talking any more. We don't actually see her being gassed.

For a lot of talking has been going on, enlivened by only occasional pieces of action (how much action can you really have in a prison cell?). Most of the talking comes from Olga, understandably enough, and most of that in the form of soliloquizing or sequences in which one character makes a speech and another replies. Conversations - series of brief exchanges - and emotional outbursts were few, which would disappoint anyone who agrees with Alice.

When they did occur however, the cast came into its own. Raoul Schlechter was simply terrific as Filinto Müller, the interrogator in the Brazilian prison, personifying a kind of comfortable middle class psychopathy that brings back Eichmann and Mengele. Particularly chilling are the way he describes how he killed his own wife, and his breakdown of Ana Libre, splendidly played by Ceridwen Smith as she is driven over the edge into insanity. Bethan Clark as Olga has a heavy burden to bear trying to run a considerable gamut of emotions and dynamics, as well as varying pace, while still remaining intelligible. Understandably she sometimes failed on the last count.

Larisa Faber had no such problem in the role of Genny, Olga's confidante and cell-mate, who, as a good confidante should, helps immensely in bringing out her story and character. She was especially memorable in driving the drumming in that anti-climactic prison sequence. Which reminds me that Edward Lewis deserves a special plaudit for understated sound effects, a change from what we have been getting used to in recent years in the legitimate theatre.

During the play you cannot resist being reminded of Tosca, as Müller tries to break down first Olga and then Ana in the hunt for their lovers. Nobody jumps off of anywhere but more significantly no-one sings Vissi d'Arte. Missing is some examination or at least expression of what Olga and her cell-mates and their lovers have lived for: OK the Nazis and Müller are baddies, but what is driving the 'goodies'?

I very much look forward to seeing the same actors in a better play.