Walking out of the Waterloo East Theatre on a very cold November Friday night, I saw a group of people setting up a mobile soup kitchen under the tunnel. How serendipitous I thought, I had just seen a play which deals with the kindness of strangers and here were people offering help to others who are in need. The characters in writer Sarah Pitard’s stage adaptation, Freedom, based on 2 short stories by Oscar Wilde (‘The Nightingale and The Rose’ and ‘The Happy Prince’) are also in need of love and some charity.
Pitard cleverly decided to set these fairy tales in Pre – World War Two Germany when the gypsy community was beginning to be oppressed by the Nazis. The first act is the story of the Nightingale and the Rose, where Florica ( Tamar Karabetyan), a young gypsy girl falls head over heels for a gypsy philosopher called Besnik (Anthony Acosta). However, Besnik is in love with Helen (Lee Lytle), a well to do German woman. Helen puts Besnik’s love to the test and asks him to fetch her a very rare red rose. Once the love-struck Florica hears of this, she decides to do whatever it takes to get him the rose and finally conquer his heart.
The second act is based on the Happy Prince and focuses on a tender relationship between Mr Prin (Jeremy Gagan), Germany’s wealthiest man and Isabella (Bethan Hanks), a homeless 13 year old gypsy girl who was found on his doorstep unconscious and suffering from tuberculosis. Isabella brings new life into Prin’s home and together they set out to stop as many people as possible from being sent to the concentration camps.
The set at the Waterloo East was quite simple save for a door and some sofas for the scenes between Isabella and Mr. Prin in the second act. Although I found the music choices to be arresting and appropriate for the tone of the pieces, there were moments where I wanted to hear only the actors’ voice in order to feel the intensity which they had built up. In fact, I found the performances to be strong across the board and was impressed with the child-like quality that both Bethan Hanks and Tamar Karabetyan were able to bring to their characters. Hanks was captivating in her role as a 13 year old battered gypsy girl and brought so much energy to her performance, as did Jonathan West as Florica’s brother Tomas. His relationship with his sister Florica was so sweetly portrayed and I loved every time he called her “pea-pod”. His concern for her was sincere as was the affection shown to Isabella by Jeremy Gagan.
The stories were both touching and I was genuinely moved by the ending. I think that Pitard ‘s choice of setting them in this context was brilliant and made the stories resonate in a way which I don’t know if they would have otherwise. She also managed to transform the words of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales into a great stage production which I imagine is no easy feat. Looking forward to the next production Paradigm!
Runs until 25th November. Waterloo East Theatre – Box Office 020 7928 0060 http://www.paradigmtheatrecompany.co.uk/