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 The Theatreguide.London Review

I Am A Camera
Southwark Playhouse   Autumn 2012

Draw a line from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin stories to Kander and Ebb's musical Cabaret and the midpoint is John Van Druten's 1951 play. 

It was Van Druten who collected characters and events from several stories and combined them into a single narrative about an impoverished British would-be writer in Berlin in the early 1930s, putting the character of Sally Bowles, an English girl living on her looks, her minimal talent and her general something-will-turn-up optimism, at the centre. 

Christopher and Sally become unlikely friends, help each other through various low times, work very hard not to notice the rise of the Nazis and eventually, when he realises it's time to grow up, part.

While there are several other characters in this production Joanne Howarth is a warm and believable Frau Schneider and Sophie Dickson a touching Fraulein Landauer the play is essentially about the two central figures and the temptations of the kind of consequence-less self-indulgence Sally represents. 

Any actor playing Christopher is faced with the big obstacle Isherwood and Van Druten place in his way from the start the play's title is an assertion that he is not a character at all, but just an observer and reporter.

And, while Harry Melling admirably strives to create the sense of a man accustomed to being out of his depth in every situation and eager to float along in the wake of anyone who seems to have more control or confidence than he, the character and actor are still in constant danger of just fading away before our eyes. 

Sally Bowles can be a life-changing role the original production of this play made a star of Julie Harris, just as the film of Cabaret made Liza Minnelli's career. (On the other hand, failing to register in the original Broadway Cabaret effectively ended Jill Haworth's.) 

The most successful elements in Rebecca Humphries' performance here are the glimpses she gives us of the panic and desperation beneath Sally's unrelenting jolliness.

But there's a bit too much of the Essex girl in her Sally, and the actress resorts too often to Bette Davis flouncing to indicate bohemianism and to talking very fast, to the point of gabbling, to indicate vivacity.

Anthony Lau's direction is solid and serviceable. But, absent any special spark in staging or performances, the main interest in seeing I Am A Camera is in Isherwood's insights into the kind of wilful blindness that accompanied the early Nazi years and Van Druten's inventive development of the material.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  I Am A Camera - Southwark Playhouse 2012

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