“The German is gross in his immorality, he likes his Halb-Welt or underworld pleasures to be devoid of any Kultur or refinement, he enjoys obscenity in a form which even the Parisian would not tolerate.” Netley Lucas, Ladies of the Underworld, 1927
Lucas’ description is probably how much of Hitler’s Germany viewed the performers and revolutionaries that frequented Berlin’s theatres, music halls and editorial offices of the liberal press. They inhabited the ‘underworld’ – they were different and needed to be suppressed, even eliminated. They represented the opposite of conformity: they were too open-minded, too accepting, too lacking in prejudice and xenophobia. And what’s more, there were too many powerful women.
But Halbwelt Kultur, an etymological merging of these ‘underworld pleasures’ with culture and refinement, emphasises fascism’s ignorance. Seven women take the stage, each with their own compelling story. These women represent ‘an aspect of the fragile era, in which Germany danced toward the storm that was to come’.
Directed by Patrick Kennedy, Halbwelt Kultur shows, for the most part, how the women’s liberal attitudes and intelligence contrast starkly with Hitler’s archaic racism. From international film star Marlene Dietrich, (Sarah Bradnum), to socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg, (Alma Fournier-Carballo) to cross-dressing comedian (Claire Waldoff) these were characters that strove to protect Berlin’s freedom.
During the one-act performance, the audience is also entertained by German Jewish dancer Valeska Gert (Alyssa Noble), cabaret star Blandine Ebinger (Stephanie Hampton) author and journalist Gabriele Tergit (Julia Cugini), and the scandalous dancer and actress Anita Berber (Samantha Clark).
Some, like Luxemburg, were murdered by the Nazis, while others were imprisoned for their beliefs. Many went down in history as women who fought bravely, and with solidarity against persecution. But some succumbed to their vices: Berber was a heavy drug user and alcoholic who died before she reached her 30th birthday.
Accompanied by a five-piece jazz band, the all-female cast switch from witty ensemble numbers, to a variety of solo pieces that bring each individual story to life, through dance, song, and dialogue. Despite the differences in their characters, they exhibit a fabulous solidarity as they chant: “What makes them think they have the right to keep us from paradise?”
Each cast member brings her unique talent to the production. Noble as Veleska Gert is delightfully expressive, Hampton as Ebinger is a strong lead and Bradnum as Marlene Dietrich is stark and glamorous, while Waldoff is brilliantly funny and her dance training shines through.
Fourner-Carballo’s acting is superb, Tergit’s vocals are beautiful, and Clark’s portrayal of Anita Berber shows great depth, not to mention stunning movement in the ballet.
Of particular note is Alyssa Noble’s choreography – clever and humorous for When the Special Girlfriend and I am a Vamp, and incredibly moving in Morphium and Change the World/Supply and Demand. Peter Mitchell’s musical direction is high quality, and the band was tight, evoking the era.
Halbwelt Kultur is staged at the Jermyn Street Theatre – a personal favourite setting of mine due to its intimacy. Jermyn Street always sets the bar high, and Halbwelt is no exception.
Review by Emma Slater
PK Productions in association with Jermyn Street Theatre present Halbwelt Kultur
Directed by Patrick Kennedy, Choreography: Alyssa Noble, Musical Supervisor: Peter David Mitchell, Additional material by Finn D’albert., Lighting Design: Tom Kitney
Musical Directors: Adam Morris & Philip Mitchell, Orchestrations: Peter David Mitchell
Trumpet: Roger Moisan. Double Bass: James Maple.
Drums/Percussion: Fred Claridge
With music by By Director Patrick Kennedy
Sarah Bradnum, Samantha Louise Clark, Julia Cugini, Alma Fournier Carballo, Stephanie Hampton, Alyssa Noble, Gabriella Schmidt
Jermyn Street Theatre
Tuesday 26th November to Sunday 15th December
Tuesday to Saturday 9:00pm and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 5:00pm
Tickets: £18/ £15 concession
Box office 0207 287 2875
and online at www.jermynstreettheatre.co.uk
Saturday 30th November 2013