Opening a season of German plays at the Arcola Theatre is Dea Loher’s Innocence and I attended the first preview last night. Translated by David Tushingham, it is a series of vignettes about people struggling along on the edge of society, separate stories that slowly being to intertwine to form a portrait of a dark and depressed urban existence.
Things get off to a very sticky start with a horribly awkward scene where two characters consistently refer to themselves and their actions in the third person, whilst the other character delivers her lines in a regular manner. The cumulative effect of this is disorientating and really quite annoying, I was most definitely not a fan of this style, fortunately the rest of the first half was free from this strange device. It does recur for one scene in Act 2 but the rest is mercifully delivered straight.
One would imagine things will be tightened up before opening night, the current running time is 2 hours 45 minutes which could be shaved down with a much needed injection of pace into the second half, bhe main problem though for me was the lack of a dramatic hook to bring the piece together. The different strands amble slowly throughout the play, some of them connecting, some remaining discrete, but it lacks a defining moment to bring it all together and make it genuinely coherent and as it currently is, there’s not enough energy driving the stories along.
The ensemble cast is mostly strong: Ann Mitchell is predictably strong as the mother-in-law from hell with diabetes eating away at her leg and a caustic humour which provided some much needed levity and Meredith MacNeill as a blind pole dancer named Absolute and Nathaniel Martello-White as illegal immigrant Fadoul were both equally touching as lost souls tentatively reaching out to find some solace in each other. Maggie Steed did some fine work as a frustrated philsopher with some soul-searching monologues, but it was a shame that she never got to interact with any of the other characters.
There’s something here, in the stark, corrugated iron covered set that does well to capture the desolation and isolation that can happen to city-dwellers, but also too the rays of hope that can come out of chance human encounters, they could just do with getting there a little bit quicker (and never in the third person).