Adelaide Fringe 2015
When Eleanor’s family relocate to Germany in 1939 their lives change forever. Like many victims of Hitler’s regime Eleanor’s childhood and innocence is short-lived—there are moments where her naivety and candour are humorous and cut through the ever-present tension, but she is a victim of horrors that are skilfully performed and described. Ingrid Garner gives a superb performance that is memorable and moving.
The story starts with carefree 9-year old American-born Eleanor whose father decides to relocate the family to Germany in 1939, seduced by the stable German economy and value of the German Mark. As soon as the family board the SS Hamburg to their new home a series of heart-stopping events sees them arrive safely in Germany. However, the reality of living in a country whose leader declares war on neighbouring countries sinks in, and their attempts to return to America fail.
From then Eleanor is forced to adapt to the German culture and way of life—she struggles to maintain solidity, faith, and identity in a world of terror and disparities. The effects of the war leave a significant mark on the entire family; they witness death, families torn apart, poverty, hunger and constantly fear for their lives beneath the stoic façades. Other characters that carry the story forward include Eleanor’s formidable, German-born mother who is the rock that the rest of the family rely on, beloved older brother, Frank, decisive father and younger siblings who are too young to understand the reasons behind the hardships.
This is a powerful story that captures and conveys so much detail and emotion about a significant part of history. 70 years after Hitler’s dictatorship there are stories and experiences that still resonate deeply with people. Ingrid Garner, who has adapted her grandmother’s award-winning autobiography, and performs the show is incredibly talented and connects deeply with the story and characters. Her energy and emotions are contagious and the transitions between characters are seamless. Garner’s impersonations are spot on and leave little room to doubt which character is speaking.
Vintage photographs and footage are projected on the screen at the back of the stage and radio announcements that capture the mood of the time complement Garner’s performance; the set and props are minimal, but the performance is delivered in an enthralling manner that would make any other additions superfluous. Garner uses the heavy wooden trunk and unassuming chairs effectively to signify a change in location and scenery, while purposefully gesticulating and simulating actions to strengthen her performance. Lighting and special effects are used sparingly—the air-raid siren sends a chill down the spine, the flashing red and white lights, and unexpected sounds of bombs flying through the air before exploding definitely surprise and frighten. All eyes are on Garner as she crawls around the space, screaming in desperation, praying that she and her family survive.
Émigrés and expatriates will understand the internal struggle Eleanor faces when the war is over and she returns to America—part of her is still in war-torn Germany and the other part is in an American suburb that she left many years ago; a place she once called home. The war changed her forever and ‘home’ is now an idea guided by a distant memory that she can never truly recapture or recreate.
Garner’s performance in the intimate setting reached out to the audience and the powerful story is unforgettable—a must-see for history buffs and theatre-aficionados alike.