Picture this. A young woman stands alone in the spotlight of a theatre floor, two chairs and a traveling trunk behind her. She wears a dotted vintage frock and simple shoes. With just her voice and simple props, she effectively transports us to war-torn Germany to experience life through the eyes of an adolescent American girl.
This is the highly anticipated sequel to the award-winning Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany. Having missed out on the first instalment at last year’s Fringe, this standalone play was on my must-see list, though I'm sad to say I walked away feeling a little disappointed.
Following the somewhat rocky start of a conversation between four members of a family, whose voices were not so easily distinguished from one another, we then got into the swing of things. The mother was German and spoke strictly in a deeper tone. The brother Frank didn’t have much to say, and Father broke news of their imminent return to America – but without Mother and the small children, for they would not be admitted on account of their German nationality.
With the family now torn in two, we fall into a much more ideal ratio of third person narration with sprinkles of dialogue. Instantly the story becomes more engaging as we delve deeper into Eleonor’s life through her letters with a friend, conversations with relatives and observations about life around her.
More than anything, Eleonor’s Story is a great depiction of the far-reaching hand of trauma that surpasses age, gender and even nationality. We delve into the layered emotional landscape of a dual citizen living in a time when alliances are scrutinized for traces of disloyalty. We also learn about the brutality of war. Not in a sweeping, statistical way, but in an in your face, so-real-it-hurts kind of way.
This performance gave a remarkable portrayal of a young girl’s emotional journey and growing up too fast. The comparison between the cultural landscapes of Nazi-gripped Germany and bountiful America were heart-achingly stark. For example, upon arriving at her aunt’s place in America, Eleonor is encouraged to help herself to the communal fruitbowl. With eyes widened in disbelief at such luxury, she compulsively rearranges the fruit to cover up the void of a piece she had just eaten.
Conversations between Eleonor and her American friend Dot were some of the most interesting and insightful parts of the play. Two girls the same age but worlds apart in their life experiences. For Eleonor, everyday things trigger flashbacks of trauma. The school bell, a sudden slam of a locker. Whereas for her American friend Dot, her greatest thrill is dancing the jitterbug with no socks on. And finding out that Eleonor had actually once seen Hitler.
Despite these poignant moments, there were definitely things that needed tweaking. Voices and accents could use a polish, especially when they are so integral to a performance. There was also a distinct feeling of a ‘script’ as opposed to the seamless flow of a conversation, and most importantly of all I urge the artist to put up a trigger warning for the strong themes of rape and violence in the show.