Where: Tandanya Theatre
The end of the Adelaide Fringe is always a bittersweet time – over for another year but your bank account can finally stop looking like binary code (000001 etc). I love the end of Fringe for another reason: the last shows. A great show can have a great run, but the closing night has just a little more gut punch, as the cast tears up, and family and friends (always in the audience) lead enthusiastic standing ovations.
That’s precisely what took place at the closing show of Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany, presented by Offending Shadows at Tandanya Theatre. Ingrid Garner performs a one person show based on the autobiography of the same name by her grandmother, Eleanor Ramrath Garner. The family connection makes an already moving story that much more special, as it recounts Eleanor’s journey as a young American girl caught in Nazi Germany from the years 1939 to 1946. Born in New Jersey to an American father and German mother, Eleanor’s father accepts a job in Berlin just prior to war breaking out in Europe. Due to exit visa issues for Eleanor’s mother, the family is forced to stay in Berlin throughout the war and its aftermath – including the harrowing end days as the Red Army sweeps into the city, and Eleanor’s family is at the mercy of food shortages and the brutality of the occupying force.
Tandanya Theatre is an excellent venue, and one that will hopefully continue to attract such internationally renowned and award winning plays such as Eleanor’s Story, winner of a Theatre Weekly Award Adelaide 2015, and sold out in 2016. However, the seats are an issue as they were very uncomfortable and did detract from the experience. The spartan set gelled magnificently with Ingrid Garner’s excellent portrayals of various characters and Eleanor at different ages. Garner excelled at seamlessly transitioning during dialogue between several characters at once, some in American accents and others in German.
Considering the difficulties of condensing five to six years into one hour, the play was quite well-paced. There is a feeling of some things being left out, but overall, there was a clear idea of Eleanor’s emotional journey and loss of childhood innocence. For a play marketed around being an ‘American Girl’s Story’ there is a sense that this could be the story of any Berlin citizen during the war. Particularly interesting was the continuation of life after 1945 amid the total devastation of Berlin, often not a focus of WWII-centric media. At times, I would have liked a little more signposting about what year it was and how old Eleanor was during the period. In several instances, it was jarring to hear stories and think Eleanor was still 10 or 11 years old, until it was made obvious that several years had passed. Some of my companions also wanted more attention paid to the Jewish experience, but considering the depth of information needed to cover, it is understandable that these issues were only touched on lightly.
Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany is a moving, poetic play that intimately invites the audience into one family’s struggle during a dark period in history. I look forward to it returning, and encourage all to seek it out next time Fringe rolls around.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
– Kate Riggs