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 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?
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