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The Loaf by Alan Booty at Jack Studio Theatre

If someone discovers their spouse or partner has been lying about something, however trivial, it is, I suppose, quite natural to wonder what else they’ve been lying about. Such is the issue faced by Martha (Joanna Karlsson) who pops downstairs to the kitchen in the middle of the night to find out what, if anything, is going on. Hermann (Alan Booty) is up to something- he says he suspects a burglar. But of all the objects in the kitchen, and indeed elsewhere in the house, to whack an intruder with, why does he have a bread knife in his hand?

The Loaf by Alan BootyThe setting of post-war Hamburg could have been the gateway to a depressing show, but while there is talk of hardship, there are also plenty of stories about happier times. I wonder if recollections of childhood events from the distant past is a mechanism by which the couple can, in a sense, ‘forget’ about the horrors of the more recent past.

Then there are the jokes in the dialogue. Whether one finds them funny through contemporary lenses is almost beside the point, because some of them were ‘whisper jokes’ – they had to be told in private, because if someone overheard, they might snitch to the Nazi authorities and the joke teller would be found guilty of the Third Reich’s Treachery Act 1934, which effectively restricted freedom of speech. I warmed to some of the punchlines, and it was strangely comforting to discover (or rather rediscover) there were at least some people in Germany who highly disapproved of Hitler’s regime and amongst themselves voiced criticisms through satire and observational wit. It’s also important that Martha makes the point, as she does, that they might have done more to effectively push back against Nazism, if only they knew what precisely those things were.

The dialogue as a whole, however, comes across more like a stream of consciousness than a structured storyline, and it wasn’t the easiest of narratives to follow for that reason. Martha speaks at length about how concerned she is for her mother’s welfare, having not heard from her for some time. Apparently, she can’t get her out of her mind and worrying about her is dominating her thought patterns. I say ‘apparently’ because it isn’t long before she’s talking, again at length, about something else entirely.

Interestingly, to me at least, is the complete lack of discussion about their children, especially as they talk about their parents in considerable detail. Did they just not have any, or were they killed in the war? I suggest the former, given that their trip down memory lane would almost certainly have included some references, however minor, though one can never be sure. It is, despite the physical lack of confectionery – these are hard times, which an argument over the loaf of the show’s title – a sweet exchange of anecdotes and reminisces. It’s very pleasant, but the flip side of this is a lack of dramatic tension. Still, this thoughtful and steadily paced production left me wondering what I would do if I were Martha. What would I be willing to sacrifice to make someone else happy?

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Hamburg. World War Two is over. Food is still scarce. So, when hungry Hermann creeps into the kitchen to steal an extra slice of bread at 2.30 a.m., he gets a shock when his wife Martha catches him red-handed.

Martha is dismayed because she feels that he has broken their agreement to ration the bread equally between them.

This apparently small incident takes on an ever-increasing emotional significance as past, present and future come under close scrutiny.

The Loaf by Alan Booty
inspired by the tale Das Brot by Wolfgang Borchert

Director Alan Booty
Set & Costume Design Rose Balp
Sound and Lighting Design Venus A Raven
Producer | Pogo Theatre

Alan Booty and Joanna Karlsson

TUESDAY 10 – SATURDAY 14 January 2022 Running time: 70 minutes with no interval

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1 thought on “The Loaf by Alan Booty at Jack Studio Theatre”

  1. Dear Chris

    Thank you for coming to review The Loaf last Thursday. As a writer/performer one always wishes to present an audience with a worthwhile piece of work. Naturally, by dint of performing one is putting oneself ‘out there’ and a piece of work is open to criticism which can be welcome, constructive and helpful for future development.

    Unfortunately, when a review is critical and it arises out of anything erroneous then it is nothing but irksome and upsetting. Alongside the reviewers there is the audience; the reviewer will have high expectations that need fulfilling before four or five stars are awarded, whereas the audience members can more readily use words like ‘brilliant’ etc. to express how much they have enjoyed their experience watching a play.

    However, we have been met by many who have proactively and enthusiastically engaged with us, explaining in detail their reasons for their enjoyment. We could tell many anecdotes here, including the man who spotted us in a café and came in especially to tell us why he liked the play so much and how he was going to recommend it to German neighbours. The esteemed writer/translator Alistair Beaton came on Wednesday and gave his reasons why he thought the play was well structured and performed. Directors and actors have done the same. In short, there has been a spark about all the comments made and so I was looking forward to sharing it with reviewers, too, come Thursday..

    The review you gave us seems very much adversely at variance with all that. You start with [and there are suggestions that you came with others] a supposition which I can understand, about how one lie can make one suspicious of what other lies have been told. You go on to write “Such is the issue with Martha …” Actually, no it is not. All that she wants, as in the original short story, is that Hermann will admit what he has done. That is her issue. She gives him several opportunities to do so.

    I do not understand your question about the bread knife. I do, if you are referencing Hermann – that he is just trying to make an excuse [badly]; but otherwise he has a bread knife in his hand because he has just cut himself a slice of bread. He is not a good liar.

    You also write: “there are plenty of stories about happier times”. Where? You also write that Martha is ‘apparently’ preoccupied with thoughts of her mother but then she soon talks at length about ‘something else entirely’. No, she does not.

    Martha does start to reminisce about her childhood, but as a result of her assessing that she was a worry to her mother. They do remember the blind man with his puppets, but it soon becomes a memory of a guilty event that Hermann has forgotten about and dismisses. It becomes more significant when Martha reminds him what the boy who later became an SS officer did to the monkey puppet and Hermann says it is no wonder her mother did not like him as he has a lack of empathy. “No,” says Martha, “I married you didn’t I? I always thought you were someone I could trust ..”

    Elsewhere Martha talks about her approach to everything being because of her mother, “putting things away, keeping things tidy”; the devastating events in Berlin reported to her by her friends, make her worry about her mother. She tries to reassure Hermann that her mother did actually like him. There other examples, but also Hermann is eventually moved enough to say he will try and do something to improve the situation and support her and, of course, her mother, even to the extent of helping her to come to Hamburg. Of course, Martha does have one breakdown as she pleads to Hermann: “What if they raped her?” [Meaning her mother] The upset of that leads on to her being reminded of what has happened that evening and she challenges Hermann one more time to talk about what he has done: her insecurity over her mother makes her seek reassurance from her husband: she wants him to come clean.

    With your question: “I wonder…’forget’ about the horrors of the more recent past”, do you mean you yourself do wonder that, making that into a suggestion that that is what Hermann and Martha could do; or do you mean it as a criticism that recollections of childhood would not make people forget the horrors. Either way, the recollections are a result of the incident that brought them into the kitchen and each one acts as springboard into the next.

    “And then there are the jokes”. Well there are two, which you reference and link to the Treachery Law. I agree that their quality may not satisfy contemporary tastes [cf also the jokes told in the DDR] and that does not matter, but they were important at the time. Some audience members did laugh each night, so the jokes also served as a tension reliever, as with Martha’s memory of her “Gestapo nun’. Did you know about the Treachery Law [Thank you for reading the programme. I am chuffed that the audiences did, too]? Audiences fed back to us that they did not know, nor had they realised all that is talked about.: the denazification form with its 131 ‘silly questions’ [The forms were eventually trashed as an idea to gauge complicity], for example. If you, like them, had not known then maybe the positive word “informative’ could have been included in your review? “Audiences left the theatre having learnt things they had not known before”. [That comment was often in the audience feedback.]

    “Lack of dramatic tension”. Hmmmn. This play is in the form of a Kammerspiel , the modern form of which is the ‘intimate play’. Hamburg has a ‘Kammerspieltheater’, where one expects to see plays that are a snapshot – dare one say a slice of life. Just that. You omit to mention Hermanns’ final speech about the Heimkehrer – important to him because that formed part of his bad conscience. You also do not mention the irony of the incident with the bread: through Hermann’s deceitful act the two become closer together, because Hermann has shocked himself that he can open up.: “Martha, why are we having this conversation now? We haven’t spoken about these things – like this – before”. Martha replies: “Maybe it’s time that we did”. As he starts to leave:, Martha says, “And about the bread..” – the remark brought a knowing sound of recognition in the audience each night. One group from the audience were sitting in the bar discussing how they were interpreting the ending.

    You also do not mention props, costume – all of which are authentic or made to look so [ref Rose who knitted the slippers according to a 1940s German pattern]; the authentic breadboard, the nightshirts made out of old sheets as could have been the case, nor do you mention the extensive research. Of course, I hope you liked our acting – you make no reference to that. Some, if not all, of that is worthy of praise for enhancing the experience of being there.

    Thank you for thinking of possible children for Hermann and Martha and why they were not mentioned, as in they are not original story. We did address it in rehearsals and decided not to over-egg the cake. Your interpretation was what we hoped for, that they just do not have any; but I now have a solution of how to make it clearer.

    I am also touched by your final remarks about Martha. I chose her name deliberately.

    Overall, though, I am left narked by the review. I feel it is the omissions, the possible presuppositions and the factually erroneous remarks that have left me saddened and frustrated. The numerous people from the audiences who have engaged with us have clearly enjoyed and understood the form, structure and content of the play.

    I do not think the three stars are harsh – that level of award leaves me feeling that they are unjust.

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