The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



NEWS (Etcetera)



Los Angeles






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Through the Leaves
by Lizzie Loveridge

Is a big romance still possible when you are past fifty?
-- Martha
Through the Leaves
Ann Mitchell as Martha and Simon Callow as Otto
(Photo: Robert Goldstein)
Through the Leaves is an uncompromising relationship drama, a two hander with a difference. It showed in January 2003 at a tiny Fringe theatre, Southwark Playhouse, and has transferred to the Duchess in the West End after very good reviews. Written twenty years ago by German playwright, Franz Xaver Kroetz who specialises in one act plays which are heavily naturalistic. Kroetz maintains that his characters' inarticulation and silences are as important as what they do say. His characters perform most bodily functions onstage. In 1970 his plays provoked such a violent audience reaction that the theatre had to be put under police protection. Through the Leaves dates from 1970 just before Kroetz's eight year membership of the Communist Party. He resigned unable to combine Marxist ideology which called for positive heroes with his vision of dramatic realism.

Martha (Ann Mitchell) is a woman who has just turned fifty. She is a successful businesswoman, running her own Tripe butchers shop. Otto (Simon Callow) is her man-friend, a packer in a factory who uses Martha for sex. When the play opens Ann has hopes that Otto may settle down with her. Their relationship is followed in her diary from January to September.

The portrait of Otto is an unrelenting one. While Martha confides in her diary her romantic notions, we the audience see Otto for what he is -- a brute, insensitive and vain. He is without charm. He arrives demands sex and she starts to undress, "Just take your knickers off" he barks at her. She at least on this occasion refuses to comply. What makes the play remarkable is the lengths that this woman will go to in order to hang on to him. Just when is any relationship better than nothing?

Ann Mitchell gives a tender and understated performance. We see her onstage skinning a rabbit but her bloody occupation belies her personality. There is a continual power struggle as Otto resents Martha's earning power and tells her that butchery is not a suitable job for a woman. She will not give up her business nor her dog, even when Otto accuses her of bestial sex. In many ways she tries to accommodate Otto but he is always defensive, suspicious.

Simon Callow's performance is highly stylised with an elaborately enunciated Cockney accent. Shaven headed, he swaggers and staggers in drunk, helps himself to sex with Martha and to beer from her fridge. He abuses her verbally telling her that she is unattractive. Nothing in the text tells us why he behaves like this. He turns up suddenly and then disappears for days on end. Even an offer of a job from her is seen by him as a plot to control him. We are treated to Simon Callow in the bath and later Martha's first experience of oral sex, giving oral sex that is. Only once are we allowed to see the vulnerability that Otto covers up with his bullying. When Martha agrees to wear the goggles under the sun lamp because he asks her to, we get a glimpse of what he needs to feel in control. It is the sole demonstration of caring from Otto.

The set is the bleak butcher's shop with its wooden block table and tatty furniture at the rear with lighting to change the mood. It seems slum like and unlikely premises for the efficient Martha. The title refers to this quote, "If you go walking through the leaves, you'll have to put up with the rustling". Personally, I think the rustling is the best bit.

I wanted to send Martha to a group for women who love too much so she could learn not to be dependent on a man like Otto. This is not a comfortable play but a sad one.

Through the Leaves
Written by Franz Xaver Kroetz
Translated by Anthony Vivis
Directed by Daniel Kramer

With: Ann Mitchell, Simon Callow
Designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Designer: Charles Balfour
Sound: Michael Oliva
Running time: One hour thirty minutes without an interval .
Box Office: 0870 890 1103
Booking to 24th May 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 28th April 2003 Performance at the Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street London WC2 (Tube Station: Charing Cross)

Mendes at the Donmar
Our Review

Peter Ackroyd's  History of London: The Biography
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography

London Sketchbook
London Sketchbook

Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam

The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2003, Elyse Sommer Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from