It sometimes feels as though popular culture is drowning in romantic, rose-tinted Second World War nostalgia. This story rejects that temptation. This Beautiful Future is about how to live when you’re surrounded by death and how to find beauty in the midst of destruction. Back for a second run at The Yard Theatre, it’s not hard to see why this enchanting play was so loved when it premiered earlier this year.
Otto (Tom Morley) is a young Nazi soldier and Elodie (Abigail Lawrie) is a girl living in occupied France. We meet them late one night as they meet in secret, as usual, unaware that this particular night is anything special. But it’s a moment heavy with significance and possibility: the night before the US army arrives to liberate the town.
Time is fluid in the suspended world Rita Kalnejais has created. Jonah Brody’s wonderful music blends the 1940s into Adele. The 1944 story is suffused with musings from an older couple (Paul Haley and Alwyne Taylor), who occupy karaoke booths on either side of the stage. They sing and speak to – who? To each other? To Otto and Elodie? To their younger selves? To us? Perhaps they are Otto and Elodie. I hope so.
Tom Morley is chillingly naive as Otto, the idealistic young Nazi who describes weeping
with emotion at his first Hitler rally. Beguiled by the fascist and antisemitic rhetoric he has internalised, he is fanatical about a beautiful future; one that is cleansed and pure. He is willing to die for it.
Abigail Lawrie is charming in the face of despair around her, and unfailingly flirty. Love is blind and Elodie is the proof – even as Otto tells her that he thinks he has killed her old French teacher by firing squad, she doesn’t blink. Her idealism is timeless and borderless. She is detached from the war and in denial of what she hears on the radio.
Cécile Trémolières has created a beautiful world for them to inhabit. A deep bed of pillows
and duvets sits in the centre of a rustic farmyard, with no trace to be seen of the war outside. Josh Anio Grigg’s sound design and Christopher Nairne’s lighting are both similarly gentle, insulated from real life – there are no bangs, no shots, no explosions. The whole thing has a playful feel; the emotions are real but the chaos of war is make-believe.
Time passes (or it doesn’t) and the characters slip away. Paul and Alwyne tell us all the things they would do differently if they had their time again. Otto and Elodie hang, suspended, between infinite possible futures. A dozen little miracles appear quietly, then fade again from view.
Reviewed by Annabel Mellor