My time in Berlin is coming to an end, but I reckon I’m winding it up rather than down. A show on Thursday, a show on Friday, pre-show dinner and post-show drinks on Thursday, morning tea with my star of the moment on Friday, the whole punctuated by midnight motor-scooter rides across Berlin and my daring discovery of the Berlin U-Bahn.
Thursday’s show was a little gem. It was also mightily frustrating. For the first time in my German-language theatre-going I really missed not being able to understand properly. For this was a show which very much needs all of its words heard. Höchste Eisenbahn (‘It’s high time ..’) is a genuine 1932 satirical and comical Berlin Kabarettrevue (forget Liza Minelli, this is the real thing), written and composed by Friedrich Holländer of Blue Angel (etc) fame. It has been reassembled from the original material, is recreated here by a group of just six un-miked performers (instead of the original 14) who make up a semi-professional group called artdeshauses and, thanks to a Maecenas, it is being played in a fifty-seater room in the basement of an Unter den Linden bookshop. It deserves a much more prominent (if not too much larger) venue.
The performers sketched and sang a variegated collection of odd, to say the least, train-travellers with great gusto and although none of them could be called a singer, they (and a hard-working pianist plus two) put across Hollander’s tuneful and pointed ditties to fine if occasionally aurally shocking effect. I particularly liked the group numbers – a sketch in which a lovey-dovey pair of Just Married travellers drive their worldly-wise compartment mates to distraction and finally suicide, a song-and-dance routine about all the things that are ‘verboten’ on the railway, a trio of ditsy grass widows (‘Strohwitwe’) debating the merits of virtue during their husbands’ entrained absence, the on-the-platform attempt on the virtue of innocent out-of-town Agathe (with a top Q sharp which should have been a Z flat) by a fake Russian countess, and a splendid closer in which a group of caricatured English tourists and another of Saxon travellers find an entente cordiale, and the word Anglo-Saxon, in a hopeful and positive finale to the show. You see? I got the gist, but I missed the words and I wanted very much to get the words. Which is probably why the pointed solo numbers (including ‘Notbremse’, the song of the lady with an irresistible urge to pull the emergency cord) worked less well for me. Which was frustrating.
Anyway – just as in the case of the 1920s revue revived with Diana Martin and Graham Hoadly 20 odd years ago at London’s King’s Head -- I found the whole enterprise a delicious success, and wonder why we can’t have more revivals of material from this era and this style of semi-theatre.