Life Through A Lens - The Directory Group

Life through a lens

Theatre review by Henry Ascoli

‘I am a camera’ by Performance Preparation Academy, Bellerby Studio Theatre, Guildford


“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

Poignant, engaging and profound, this emotionally-charged drama was vividly brought to life on the modern stage by a typically accomplished Performance Preparation Academy (PPA) cast.

The intimate surroundings of the traverse-style Bellerby Studio Theatre proved a perfect setting for this production, immersing the audience in the action and leaving the actors no margin for error.

Not that this mattered, as the seven-strong cast delivered a fine performance, seizing the attention of the packed audience in the opening moments, and sustaining this throughout the three acts.

The inspiration behind Kander and Ebb’s iconic musical ‘Cabaret’, ‘I am a Camera’ was first produced by Gertrude Macy, in association with Walter Starcke, at the Empire Theatre in New York City in 1951.

I am a Camera shines the spotlight on the life of writer Christopher Isherwood and his time in Weimar Germany during the 1930’s – a country in political and economic turmoil, with the rapid ascent of Nazism and Jewish oppression threatening to tear the nation apart.

Isherwood sets out his stool as ‘the onlooker’, never involved in the action, but instead viewing the world around him as if through the camera shutter, simply taking it all in. Yet his fascinating relationship with close friend Sally Bowles ultimately becomes the principal focus – their devotion for another proving pivotal during the darkest moments in their lives.

Stefan Gough delivered an impassioned performance as Christopher, scratching beneath the surface to reveal every aspect of his complex character, his emotional struggles set against an astounding strength of heart.

Edie Newman proved truly beguiling, capturing the beauty, eccentricity and sex appeal of Sally Bowles, her assured stage presence radiating around the room.

Michael Harrison, in the understated yet integral role of Fritz Wendel, revealed his character piece by piece – the persona  of a confident stud, capable of having any woman simply by ‘curling his little finger’, yet beneath the surface fighting to hold back his true beliefs for fear of society’s reaction.

Similarly, Indiana Collins’ strong portrayal of Fraulein Schneider revealed the power of Nazi propaganda, the once-cheerful landlady fading away, the iron fist of oppression beginning to take over her heart and mind.

Sam Stay immersed himself in the role of the bold and brash American Clive Mortimer, completely out of touch with Sally’s humble surroundings, never losing sight of life’s luxuries.

Hannah Henderson’s assured portrayal of the stoical Natalia Landauer and Zoe Woodruff’s role as the supercilious Mrs Watson-Courtneidge should not go unmentioned, yet in such a strong production it is tough to select a ‘star of the show’.

A simple stage featured touches of fine detail – the ornate chaise longue, the writer’s desk, beautiful artwork adorning the walls to name but a few.

The choice of costumes also proved telling, serving to emphasise each character’s status - from Sally’s array of elegant outfits to Christopher’s somewhat ageing suits.

A show of great quality, endeavour and skill, demonstrating PPA’s enduring ambition to succeed.

Performance Preparation Academy, 01483 459080, , @PPAcademyUK

The Directory Group covers the following areas within Hampshire and West Sussex: Petersfield, Clanfield, Hayling Island, Cowplain, Waterlooville, Denmead, Purbrook, Widley, Farlington, Cosham, Drayton, Havant, Rowlands Castle, Emsworth, Southbourne, Westbourne, Bosham, Portsmouth, Alton, Alresford, Bentley, Four Marks and Meon Valley