REVIEW: Way To Heaven

LOUIS SHANKAR is impressed by the performances in this troubling but moving play.

Cambridge Corpus Playrooms play Theatre Way to Heaven WWII

Corpus Playroom, Tue 5 – Sat 9 May 2015 at 7.00pm, £6/£5

Way To Heaven is not an easy play. Initially, it seems like a strange choice for exam term; although, much like exams, I suppose it does have you reaching for a bottle of wine rather than some flashcards. Telling the story of a Red Cross Representative’s visit to a civilian internment camp north of Berlin, Way To Heaven unravels slowly, a complex mix of monologues and short scenes.

The play opened with Heather Fantham sat on a bench, relaying the aforementioned Red Cross Representative’s experiences in and north of Berlin during the war. A 20 minute monologue is not an easy thing to start a play with: Fantham’s performance was northing short of a masterclass in how to deliver such a speech. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage.

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To play a Nazi officer is not an easy or, I imagine, enjoyable feat but Will Bishop was terrifyingly terrific as the Commandant: slick, creepy, eerie and ultimately evil. More than one shill went down my spine in reaction to some of his lines.

Toby Marlow played Gershom Gottfried (the only character with a name) with a wonderful subtlety. He was very, very good at seeming genuinely scared. That’s not to belittle his performance: the role required filling the stage with as honest a fear as possible, which was done perfectly.

The structure of the play was rather peculiar: although this was mostly integrated very well, there was a point about two-thirds through where the momentum seemed to plummet. We knew the ending, we were just sat there waiting for it to arrive.

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The overall design and production value was fine. Costumes were expertly detailed but the set was rather plain; the lighting was somewhat unambitious (except for a few dazzling blackouts) and the train sounds felt clichéd.

Perhaps the biggest shame, though, was the audience. I counted twelve people in the audience (which included myself and two stewards): there were ten members of the cast. This isn’t a happy play to distract you from revision (What The Dickens!, which follows, is probably more suitable). But it is an important reminder of the recent past and the progress that Europe has made in 60 years. With some difficult parts performed exceptionally, this is worth a watch.

4 stars