Theatre Review: A Bright Room Called Day

It is time for the final weekend show of the season and went to see how The Drama Barn was transformed into 1930s Berlin

I have been to see many shows in the Drama Barn, but I can unwaveringly state that this is the best play that I have seen. Simultaneously haunting, gripping and touching, this piece comes alive in the Barn, engaging and challenging the audience. Conceived in 1985 by Tony Kushner, it is set in Berlin in 1932, following Agnes Eggling (Lucy Fourgs) and her bohemian friends as they struggle to respond to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The script was adapted in order to maintain its relevance to a modern day audience; interjections from Zillah Katz (Elle Hibbert) whose concerns of the political situation repeating through Ronald Reagan are also likened to Donald Trump. Elle Hibbert scanned the audience, making probing eye contact with fearless resistance as she delivered her comparisons of extremism and racial supremacism, noting that these similarities are dismissed as too radical yet reveal a worrying reality. The construction of a series of encounters denoting the events and reactions to the political parties leading to the Third Reich are like postcards offering snapshots of life during the period. Snapshots which audiences are privileged yet reluctant to hear.

Simultaneously haunting, gripping and touching, this piece comes alive in the Barn, engaging and challenging the audience.

Such a political piece is not an easy task to execute, so the high commendation should go to the direction. Every element of the play is impeccable, separating this from other university productions that I have seen. There is a scale on which university productions are considered; consciously or not, these are not to the same level of professional productions due to the latter’s extra funding, training, resources and cast. This production of ‘A Bright Room Called Day’ has transcended that.

Entering the barn, the preset of Agnes’s apartment is vivid and realistic whilst completely avoiding clutter. Every element of the set can be engaged with so that in moments of frustration or anger, Agnes can leave her company and anxiously tidy or rearrange whilst the wine is free-flowing to her friends. This kind of design in which real food and drink are used make the characters actions so much more believable. An initial freezeframe which was prepared for the audience’s entrance signified the play as caught moments in time. This initial period to study the actors whilst the audience settled in also gave time to admire the costume. Evie Emslie as costume designer did a fantastic job, especially alongside Orla O’Hagan as Hair and Make-Up for Herr Swetts (Caidraic Heffernan) and Die Alte (Ellie Armstrong). They worked together to create a cohesive style which highlighted the character’s traits and role.

As the lighting changed to a full red wash and faded through to white light this triggered the cast into action, seamlessly falling into movement as if they truly were frozen. I had high expectations after this which I am glad to say were fulfilled. Considering the entire cast, every action and movement was purposeful, illustrating something about their mood or relationship to another character. The action of the room took place in a central square of the barn, lined by a fake house floor and walls. Whilst this was taking place, the other characters remained at the sides, only dimly lit, sitting or standing silently interacting with one another where suitable. This was an impressive and foreboding element of the show as they were nearly all on stage constantly. For roles like Die Alte, Ellie Armstrong, tucked against the wall of the set so that she was barely noticeable watching the ongoing events in the house, was disconcerting and cast an air of intrigue over the events. She was the only onlooker to spectate the events and seemed to symbolise the evil and haunting presence of the inevitable rise of the Nazis as well as heighten the fear of safety at Agnes’ house as informants could be anywhere.

Slipping out of a large brown fur coat which somewhat camouflages her into the set as she observes Agnes, her long pale frame in a white slip creep onto the stage. With ghost-like eeriness, it is left unclear whether Die Alte is purely a figment of Agnes’ imagination or something else. Taking sinister satisfaction in every word, her hollow face and wide roaming eyes left the audience unable to look away. The other semi-supernatural character was Herr Swetts (Caidraic Heffernan), also known as the Satan. Ghoulish contouring face makeup and formal dress paired with Frankenstein like movement immediately contrasted him against the other characters. Developing from a wheezing asthmatic at the start of the scene, seemingly crippled with a bent arm, to a dominating and confrontation figure over the course of a long monologue, Caidraic should be congratulated. Expert control of states of energy and their smooth rise and fall over such a long period was impressive as the role creates a great challenge for any actor. With the widest range of expressions, sounds and exclamations that I believe I may ever have seen, his sadistic and psychotic performance brought to mind Heath Ledger’s Joker to a degree.

A Bright Room Called Day. Photo Credit: Katherine Johnston

The centre of the play, Lucy Fourgs as Agnes Eggling, was a striking performer who shows great promise for a future in theatre. Her expression, physical stance and delivery of lines was relatable and poignant. A performer who became the character on stage. Her journey from a hopeful skit writer for the Communist party who steadily loses her hope, strength and friends to eventually become a shell of herself; distressed and unsure how to respond to times in which resistance threatens life itself. How far should morals influence you in these circumstances? This could seem overwhelming both for the cast and the audience but moments of comedy are frequent and offer much-needed relief. Her slightly crazed interaction with a baby with a Hitler moustache caused lasting audible laughter from the audience. Of particular note was towards the end of Act 2 in which her lifelessness was so incredible, the audience could only be sure she was alive by a single tear which fell from her downcast face.

Compelling, brilliant, funny and real, this play should not be missed. The final show of the term will be ending the series on a definitive high.

The other cast members’ performances were compelling and moving. Gregor ‘Baz’ Bazwald (Bryn Richards) troubled by the uncertainty he faces in Germany as a homosexual was especially chilling as he recounted seeing a man who jumped off a roof on his way to the grocers. Katie Newbould as Paulinka Erdnuss grappled with moral ambiguity in a terror state, yet unexpectedly seemed to uphold her original beliefs the most out the group, alongside Annabella Gotchling (Valeria Di Pasquale) who convinces Agnes to allow her house to be used to hide illegals. We see the relationship between Vealtninc Husz (Jacob Ashbridge) and Agnes deteriorate as he shows little concern for his friends’ tales as the play progresses, also rejecting her company.

Compelling, brilliant, funny and real, this play should not be missed. The final show of the term will be ending the series on a definitive high. A great piece of art causes the audience to not just appreciate it, but to remember and challenge the ideas it raises. Drama Soc Presents: A Bright Room Called Day is a great work of art. Hearty congratulations to everyone involved. I expect to see wonderful things from them beyond university.


10/10

A Bright Room Called Day continues to run in The Drama Barn until Sunday night. For more information and to buy tickets, please visit www.yorkdramasoc.com

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