Heimatmann, featuring just two performers, John Casey and Jessie Waterfield, tells the story of Georg Elser. Elser was a German man who failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler – but only by a matter of minutes. We hear his story from his ghost as he swigs beer, tells jokes and and reminisces about that tumultuous period in Germany’s history.
Georg Elser’s story isn’t widely told in UK schools, but writer and performer John Casey was inspired by the fact that German schoolchildren confront their country’s painful history at a young age, often struggling to accept it. In fact, it was a friend in America who informed me that I was about to see a play based on a true story, which shifted the experience to a different level and ultimately made the piece more enjoyable. Without this knowledge, the who, what and why of the play would feel unanswered as the script felt muddled and there was no clearly defined narrative to guide you through for the majority of the play.
Heimatmann was a challenge for both spectator and performer, with only six audience members and the extremely distracting hubbub from the pub downstairs regularly stalling the show. However, Casey dealt with the set backs well and even when losing his lines briefly he continued admirably. It was a shame that the delivery of the more delicate lines was lost in the clatter of the shouting drinkers, the traffic outside and the toilets next door. I strongly feel that had the play been performed in a quieter venue better suited to theatrical performance over comedy, the overall execution of the play would have been significantly improved. Jessie Waterfield delivered German folk songs with a sweet voice and visible emotion – the music adding a lot of atmosphere to a production very out of place with its surroundings. The inclusion of an original song by Casey was a nice touch and enhanced the clear passion he had for his subject.
It was enlightening to speak to Casey about his intentions for Heimatmann after the performance. He explained it is an attempt to assuage the pain of Germany’s past, and make a connection with the present. Perhaps adding this information for those unfamilar with Elser’s story (as most people will be) as a prefix to the play would enhance the story’s significance. Imagining this production in a different black-box theatre venue highlighted that many of the problems with the show stemmed from external sources. Heimatmann was a thought-provoking play let down by the venue, but I was left with a genuine desire to learn more about this so-almost-historic figure in German history. It was the good and bad of the Fringe in a one-hour slot: new stories about rarely discussed people but lacking quality in its execution.
Originally posted on Broadway Baby.