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A CurtainUp London London Review

Have you noticed it's only ever women who do it in water? (Talking about suicide) — Franz
Nathaniel Martello-White as Fadoul (John Haynes)
Innocence is a mesh of scenes by German writer Dea Loher the lives of whose characters interweave until they have all impinged on one another. This is a bleak vision of a Germany where the book, The World Is Unreliable gives a theme, where people reliably fling themselves with regularity in suicidal leaps from a high tower of flats, or they gas themselves and others drown in the sea.

We are introduced to this society by two black Muslim illegal immigrants Fadoul (Nathaniel Martello-White) and Elisio (Okezie Morro) who see a girl Rosa (Caroline Kilpatrick) get into difficulties swimming. They debate how they will explain their immigration status if they rescue her. While they hesitate she disappears from view, presumed drowned, and leaving them guilt-filled. Later Fadoul meets a blind girl the curiously named Absolute (Meredith MacNeill) who he uses to make amends.

Ann Mitchell plays the ghastly Frau Zucker, whose foot is being eroded by diabetic foot disease and who invites herself to stay with her compliant daughter Rosa and her non-engaging son in law Franz (Chris Hannon). Franz has trained as a doctor but given up his studies and after being unemployed now has employment washing dead bodies in a mortuary which he finds fulfilling, occasionally bringing home the blue lipped suicides that no-one has claimed.

Maggie Steed is an academic, the author of The World is Unreliable, who is married to a goldsmith, Helmut (Michael Fitzgerald). She contrasts her ideas based occupation with his, producing frippery for the wealthy. Finally there is the curious and sinister, staring eyed Frau Habersatt (Ellen Sheean) in her shoulder padded formal green woollen coat who visits to apologise to the relatives of those killed by her murdering son.

You will ascertain that Innocence is not a feel good piece but a deep and murky indictment of the lack of connectivity of modern society. As each of the scenes develop their stories of alienation and isolation from the beginnings I've indicated, there is plenty to think about.

Innocence is a wordy piece, sometime indigestible, uncomfortable and disturbing. There are points when Dea Loher's words take on a poetic, mesmeric quality as they describe what the characters are feeling as they act both as actors and as narrators of their own situation and actions. One character, a woman who gave birth knowing the child would be still born describes what she felt. "My body is a coffin" she says with heartfelt words that remain with you.

The set projects onto a plastic covered exit the seascape with a swimmer bobbing in the waves. It helps the imagination to see this and there is the sound of the waves. The only set pieces are a pile of books and a televison both sitting on piles of sand visual reminders of the unreliability of the world. Cleverly directed by Helena Kaut-Howson, Innocence is not for the faint hearted or those who prefer their theatre lite. There are outstanding performances from Ann Mitchell who is brilliant as the sour, inconsiderate, crusty old woman and from Nathaniel Martello-White as Fadoul, a man who wants to act for the best of reasons, a man who wants to lead a genuinely good life. His purity, maybe his innocence, is as near as this play gets to hopeful.

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Written by Dea Loher
Translated by David Tushingham
Directed by Helena Kaut-Howson

Starring: Ann Mitchell, Nathaniel Martello-White, Maggie Steed, Michael Fitzgerald
With: Miranda Cook, Alexander Gilmour, Chris Hannon, Caroline Kilpatrick, Meredith MacNeil, Okezie Morro, Ellen Sheean
Corpses: Sumit Chakravarti, Emma Habbeshon, Kimberley Peuling, Madeleine Shenai, Dushka Wertenbaker-Man, Rebecca Wieland
Sound: Mark Thurston
Set and Costume Design: Lara Booth
Lighting and Video Design: Alex Wardle
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking to 30th January 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th January 2010 performance at the Arcola Theatre Studio One, 27 Arcola Street, Hackney, London E8 2DJ (Rail: Dalston)

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