Tunnels

Oliver Yellop
Further Theatre in association with Park Theatre
Park 90

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Oliver Yellop as Freddie and Lewis Bruniges as Paul Credit: Mark Douet
Oliver Yellop as Freddie and Lewis Bruniges as Paul Credit: Mark Douet

Paul and Freddie are young cousins who want to escape their home town but that is no easy task in East Berlin of 1968. You can’t just stroll over the border or at that time the 'death strip' and huge wall that divided the Eastern side of the city from the West. You can’t even pass through one of the checkpoints without official permission.

Their solution is to dig a secret tunnel from an East Berlin park to the West Berlin underground system. We meet them crouched in an imagined tunnel indicated by a slightly raised metal platform. They have already dug many metres with little more than two spades. Just a few metal struts hold the roof up. They have no protective clothing and the only concession to the messiness of the task is the full-body overalls they wear.

Almost immediately we see a problem as Freddie, positioning a pole, accidentally injures Paul’s hand. It prompts one of many heated discussions about their frustrations. Paul describes his previous failed attempt at escape which led to a spell in prison.

Amongst those imprisoned at the same time was his former sociology teacher who, though an undercover unofficial Stasi (Ministry of State Security) informer, had himself tried unsuccessfully to escape via the back of a meat wagon.

Both have mixed feelings about leaving. Paul argues, “the party made us better people,” though both of them can reel off jokes that point to the limits set on those people. One such joke claims the reason the Soviet bloc uses the term brother instead of the word friend is because you don’t have any choice about membership of your family.

Freddie’s reservations about leaving centre on his girlfriend Liesel who doesn’t want to escape with him.

Things come to a head when, very close to the sound of West Berlin’s underground, a section of the tunnel collapses. Should they try and dig their way back to the East or break through to the West?

The play treats seriously the terrible difficulties faced by those suffering the repression of the old East German society, but the conversations seem fragmentary, lacking any dramatic tension or focus. You might recall the cousins finding the skulls of two dogs which they use to mimic radio conversation and even one or two of the jokes, but how they and all their arguments fit together beyond letting us glimpse extracts from a lost world is unclear.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna