Charlotte is an independent German woman who works at a secret bar under a bridge. Tom is an Australian tourist with no-where to stay. Although it is known that the characters meet at a secret bar, we never actually get to see it. For the most part, MTC’s Berlin unfolds at Charlotte’s loft apartment Berlin home, where the two have just met, and yet somehow, have an electric sexual chemistry. Like all strangers do, the two exchange stories about who they are as people, share odd facts, ask the uncomfortable questions and dive into their deepest darkest secrets with no warning.
Initially meant to take place at Melbourne’s Southbank Theatre last April but halted due to the global pandemic, the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) have finally put on playwright Joanna Murray-Smith’s Berlin, directed by Ian Sinclair. The romantic thriller stars Grace Cummings and Michael Wahr as Charlotte and Tom. The two have a chance meeting in a Berlin bar and seem to hit it off immediately. But is it really by chance?
Christina Smith’s unchanging set really makes you feel like you’re in the apartment with the cast, but it never feels restrictive or limited, and is complimented by Niklas Pajanti foreshadowing lighting. While both Cummings and Wahr provide an impressive display in their respective roles during this 80-minute dialogue exchange, the heart of the production is the script – full of fantastic lines and questions that I wish I could have paused for, rewinded and written down.
MTC’s Berlin is clever, sexy, surprising and incredibly thought provoking. What I love about Joanna Murray-Smith’s writing is that her plays are never intended as spectacles and are more dialogue and character driven pieces. Berlin is no exception, really asking us the tough important questions, and questions that I never expected to be thrown at me.
Admittedly, in the beginning, the show almost lost me. When the characters first started exchanging stories, I had wondered what was important that I should salvage, and what was not. The pacing of the show, although it did flow, felt a little slow at first. But then things started to unravel. What was once a slow crawl became a run, which then in turn finally transformed into a punch in the face that I never expected.
Death, love, history, hedonism, art, fate and ‘what if’… all these topics are laid bare and are championed in MTC’s Berlin, effortlessly executed due to the wonderful combination of great directing, smart writing, stunning set design and the talent of its cast. MTC’s Berlin is a special production with a thrilling development that will have you pondering long after you’ve left the theatre. And honestly, it is this type of the theatre that I have missed the most. Welcome back MTC, and bravo.
MTC’s Berlin is now playing at Melbourne’s Southbank Theatre, The Sunmer until May 22nd, 2021.
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Photography by Jeff Busby.