Camden Fringe 2017
‘Doomed Resistance’ made its way to the Camden Fringe from the Plymouth Fringe Festival and does not disappoint. It is an exciting, pacy performance mixed with wit, World War 1 and one-liners. There is playful characterisation amongst the three male actors and a clever script that places us in 1914 Belgium but leaves the audience howling with laughter at the nonsensical and farcical nature of the piece.
Written by Simon Godfrey and directed by Rebecca Blake the Falling Pennies Theatre Company transports us into the German invasion of Belgium, a three-hander which tells the story of the General Erich Ludendorff’s encounter with the Citadel of Liege’s commander at a time when the General is prepared to come out on top, however the commander refuses these wishes forcing them into verbal battle; all the while Private Herman Schmidt, Ludendorff’s inferior provides more amusement with his day dreaming and reading of tea leaves.
The set is simple with plastic boxes and a tin pail. The boxes are moved in swift transitions between the scenes and mark the fortress wall between the commander and Ludendorff. The split-staging is perfect at highlighting where we are and what these characters want; it allows the actors full scope for expressing their aloneness but floundering pretence of having a big army behind them by talking to imaginary soldiers and getting Smidt to play on drums to create ‘kitchen’ clatter. The tin pail along with a coat and towel are used to morph the characters into their supposed army and entertainment ultimately prevails.
The writing is refreshing and edgy, witty and contemporary. Incongruously modern slang is interjected and when spoken by the Commander in his sharp, camp, clipped voice is hilariously received. Pithy and effective one-liners are uttered by all three actors and when Shmidt pronounces ‘feng shui’ like ‘feng shooey’ you realise just how down to earth this play really is. Trivial conversation and fillers creates a sincerity and endears us to Shmidt when he forces awkward conversation with his superior by bringing up the weather and his idea of what makes the perfect cup of tea.
The commander played by Ryan Penny is the most physical by becoming his made-up wife ‘Jenny’ and having arguments with himself. He also transforms into yet other made-up characters such as the soldier ‘Philippe’ and the German Kaiser with the use of a horn to visually symbolise his moustache. His movements were light and fluid and played his many parts superbly. He masterfully changes his voice and physicality to match each character and expertly negotiates the timing required for us to catch up with what is being said by whom. It seems that his function in the play is to provide light-relief from Ludendorff’s seriousness. His frustration at his lack of army is brilliantly portrayed however it may be even more satisfactory to see him really crumble. Ludendorff and Smidt both convey insecurities and express their shaky and slightly dysfunctional backstories and it may add an extra layer by giving the commander something to cry or be pained about, encouraging empathy from the audience.
Ludendorff played by Tea Poldervaart is wonderfully believable as the German Major-General and when he reaches his tipping point his intense fury at his disdainful military position bursts out of him in a series of carefully crafted huffs, puffs and sighs. This is the moment which Tea really shines, this and his sentimentality towards his cat ‘Wendy’. His shifting eyes and stern expressions dominate and his irritation and annoyance at Smidt is enjoyable to watch.
Smidt played by Matthew Warhust plays an undeniably affable and simple-minded soldier. His northern, lazy speech and childlike physicality likens him to the loveable ‘Lenny’ from ‘Of Mice and Men’. However this character is more enlivened with grinning and popping eyes; he is the foil to Ludendorff, a sort of ‘Elder Cunningham’ from ‘The Book of Mormon’. His journey throughout the play is the most engaging and the audience are truly on his side.
Overall this play is a unique one-off; profoundly original writing paired with comic performances and powerfully constructed moments that leaves the audience reeling with laughter. It must be awarded a ‘must see show’ and I am so glad that I got the chance to see it.