Berlin Hannover Express

Posted on: 29 April 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Ian Kennedy Martin's first full length stage play Berlin Hanover Express, directed by Michael Rudman at the Hampstead Theatre.

Ireland’s state of neutrality during the Second World War is a subject which playwrights and film makers have surprisingly steered clear of until now. So Ian Kennedy Martin (The Onedin Line and Bergerac) should be praised for tackling this thorny topic in his first full length stage play Berlin Hanover Express, directed by Michael Rudman at the Hampstead Theatre.

The place is Berlin, the time the autumn of 1942.  Inside the Irish consulate, officials and diplomats try to carry on their routine business.  Outside RAF bombing of the capital of the Third Reich intensifies. 

As the security services start to uncover the true origins of the consulate’s German cook, should the staff step in to protect her or will their neutrality render them powerless in preventing the crimes unfolding around them?  As the secrets of the Nazi regime are discovered, can a country remain neutral in time of war?

This is a drama which is slow to get going, I found the first half rather long-winded and lacking in tension, but once it catches fire it proves to be an intriguing and thought-provoking work.  Martin skilfully and subtly explores themes of loyalty and betrayal and cowardice and conscience - the horrors of Bergen-Belsen are not far away – with insight and intelligence, without resorting to the usual war clichés or sentimentality. 

Furthermore despite the nature of the subject matter Martin introduces a wry strand of humour which runs through the play.

The atmosphere is strongly evoked in Paul Farnsworth’s realistic set of the spacious Berlin office of the Irish legation with its battered typewriters, wooden desks, bank of filing cabinets, desk lamps and Irish flag side by side with the swastika.

Director Michael Rudman elicits convincing performances from his well chosed cast, Sean Campion, Isla Carter, Owen McDonnell and Peter Moreton who manage to bring their characters fully to life.

This indeed is a play which is bound to cause much heated debate!

When: Plays until 4th April 2009

Where: Hampstead Theatre

By Laurence Green

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