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A CurtainUp London London Review
Berlin Hanover Express


I see corpses walking.— O’Kane
Berlin Hanover Express
Owen McDonnell as O’Kane and Isla Carter as Christe
(Photo: Nobby Clark)
Ian Kennedy Martin has written over 150 hours of successful television drama but Berlin Hanover Express is his first play for the stage. This political thriller set in Berlin in 1942 in the Irish legation explores the moral question as to whether you can ever be neutral in wartime. The Irish government has taken a stance of neutrality when its near neighbour the United Kingdom is at war with Germany. Two Irishmen from different worlds man the legation. Mallin (Seam Campion) is a stuffy, dedicated career diplomat, someone who follows the rules and who disapproves of the kind of politician the newly independent Ireland is attracting, corrupt and lacking in principle. At a desk across from him is just one such representative of the new order, Sean O’Kane (Owen McDonnell) who has been sent to Germany because his father once did a favour for Eamonn de Valera. O’Kane is a wastrel and a gambler, frequenting seedy Berlin nightclubs and leaving a trail of debt. Christe (Isla Carter) is their cook with a secret. The legation, which is technically Irish territory but with the German employees subject to certain German laws, is visited by the sinister figure of Kollvitz (Peter Moreton) once a Maitre D’Hotel but now a member of the Secret Police and very interested in Christe’s Communist brother.

The title alludes to the train line which, when O’Kane discovers the truth about the death camps, he wonders which station he would get off at to ask about Bergen-Belsen or would he be arrested? The plot hinges on which man does the right thing by the fugitive Jewish cook, the man who sticks to the rules or the feckless chancer?

Michael Rudman directs. The performances are very competent with Sean Campion as the upright bureaucrat and Owen McDonnell as the irresponsible prat. Peter Moreton as Kollvitz snaps out his words as he becomes less friendly and more openly threatening. Isla Carter as Christe is asked to strip by Moreton and in the middle of this asserts her independence from the voyeur by deciding what she will do next and taking control of the powerplay designed to humiliate her. Interesting. In between scenes there is wonderful footage from the great German filmmakers like Leni Reifenstahl of Nazi marches on a monumental scale through newsreel footage of the devastation of the bombing of Cologne.

The first act is part of a slow burn but necessary for the final act denouement. The issue of neutrality is one which provokes intense debate and brings to mind the words of Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Berlin Hanover Express
Written by Ian Kennedy Martin
Directed by Michael Rudman

Starring: Sean Campion
With: Isla Carter, Owen McDonnell, Peter Moreton
Design: Paul Farnsworth
Lighting: David Howe
Sound: Colin Pink
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7722 9301
Booking to 4th April 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th March 2009 performance at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 (Tube: Swiss Cottage)

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