Swingtime for Hitler

propaganda swing

Dark days in Germany: Miranda Wilford as Lala Anderson Pictures:Nicola Young

Propaganda Swing

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

****

PETER Arnott’s Propaganda Swing, based on a true story, brings alive a period of history where a cocktail of contradictions, a mixture of menace and merriment, purity and prurience infected the German Fatherland. Wagner is in, Tin Pan Alley definitely out.

It’s Berlin, August 1939 as the Nazi war machine is in full swing – music is strictly controlled by order – and Charly and his Orchestra are dragooned (and paid well) to provide light entertainment to Lord Haw Haw’s broadcasts to Britain.

An American war correspondent, Bill Constant (Richard Conlon), detailed to send broadcasts back to America is in love with the band’s jazz singer Lala Anderson (Miranda Wilford), wife of band leader Lutz Templin (Tomm Coles). His voice outlines the story as it unfolds. Their ill-fated affair provides the romantic impetus of the piece.

Propaganda expert and wannabeOtto Stenzle jazz singer Charly Schwedler (Jonny Bower) has been given Lutz’s band to crank up the dwindling ratings for Haw Haw’s diatribes. Charly’s girlfriend jazz singer and trumpeter Anita Spada (Clara Darcy) gradually changes her romantic allegiance to Herr Heinrich Hinkle (Paul Lincoln) to Charly’s chagrin. Hinkle is the ‘baddie’, the man with menace in his bones.

Chris Andrew Mellon as the Mr Fixit, funnyman and club owner Otto Stenzl

An curious if startling cameo of ‘Hinkie’ and Anita also shows him to be a man with interesting foibles that don’t usually form part of the Nazi doctrines of purity, Freud would probably point at repression – just like the music.

The doctrine of purity, both racial and musical, has outlawed jazz, the Devil’s music, and driven it, quite literally, underground. Black musicians and Jewish songwriters are too much for the Nazis.

Light relief comes in the form of Mr Fixit, funnyman and club owner Otto Stenzl (Chris Andrew Mellon) who, for me, simply stole the show. It is both clever writing, from Peter Arnott and casting that you know from the outset that one character is doomed, yet a born survivor. The twist at the end is worth the ticket money on its own. What a corker! I never saw that coming!

There is some great music, and a great band and the song Lilli Marlene features as it should, sung elegantly and movingly. I particularly enjoyed the Minnie the Moocher rendition from the band with the new words to explain the limitations of the regime. Directed by Hamish Glen it runs to 27-09-14.

Jane Howard

16-09-14 

And from a table near the band . . .

****

CHRIS Andrew Mellon gives what must be one of the performances of his life as Otto Stenzl, the gay, larger than life club owner in Berlin, a leftover from a previous, more permissive age of Berlin in the 20s and 30s, the age of Isherwood.

 There are elements of Archie Rice in his final bitter and funny, stand up act, a self destruct, moment of defiance as the Nazis set out to destroy him and the heart of the Berlin he has known.

This is a time of puritanical nationalism, at least in public, with Jazz, Jewish and black music, allowed only for propaganda with familiar tunes with new, clunking words glorifying the Nazis and despising the allies.

Callam Coates is wonderfully obnoxious as William Joyce, Lord Haw Haw, while Jonny Bower as Charly would have been quite likable as a singer had he not been a Nazi . no such danger with our other, neighbourhood National Socialist.

 Paul Lincoln ensured there was nothing likeable about the fanatical Hinkel, a sort of Her Flick without either the limp or the laughs.

Clara Darcy provides a two-faced, untrustworthy climber in Anita, who plays trumpet and betrayal in equal measure, while Miranda Wilford as Lala and Tomm Coles as Lutz are the unfortunate singer and bandleader caught up in politics and propaganda in Nazi Germany. Play Nazi jazz or . . . well, or else.

Richard Conlon's Bill Constant, is a throwback to the firms of the 30s and 40s with the voice over of the private eye hero narrating the tale as you went along, a nice period touch.

Lighting from Mike Robertson was also worth a mention as was a fine set from Libby Watson and the show would never have worked without a band of excellent musicians.

Its a quality production, directed by Hamish Glen, which is entertaining, funny or sad at times, but has a sinister undercurrent which gives a hint of what life in Berlin under the Nazis was like.

Roger Clarke

19-09-14 

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