Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jun 13 – 30, 2018
Playwright: Daniel Schlusser (from the Christa Wolf novel)
Director: Daniel Schlusser
Cast: Stephen Phillips, Nikki Shiels
Images by Patrick Boland
Adapted from Christa Wolf’s novel Der geteilte Himmel, Daniel Schlusser’s They Divided The Sky tells the story of Rita and Manfred, lovers in East Germany, just before the 1961 erection of the Berlin wall. Like pieces of demolished concrete scattered in the aftermath, romantic fragments constitute the play, as we wade through a recollection of events, trying to piece together truths of the past.
Politics of that era is central to the piece, but resonance is derived instead, from the personal relationship between its two characters. With mid-century German ideologies taking a backseat, we focus on the dynamics of the pair, examining the intricacies of love at a time of social unrest.
They Divided The Sky is challenging, but ultimately fulfilling, work. Schlusser’s writing and direction require of us, a deep concentration, in order that its transcendental beauty can take effect. Incisive lighting design by Amelia Lever-Davidson helps us tune in, with a degree of meditative attention, in order that we may approach the staging with a heightened sensitivity. James Paul’s sound design manipulates our emotions so that we respond accurately, on a visceral level, even when our minds are yet to figure out what it all means.
Stephen Phillips and Nikki Shiels are the wonderful actors charged with the responsibility of keeping us intrigued and invested. With an usual approach to plot structure, the play is slow to draw us in, but we are captivated from the start, by the strong presence of its cast. Individually, Phillips and Shiels are precise and cerebral with what they bring, and as a couple, their chemistry is unusually powerful. Whether subtle or intense, their energy is able to fill the stage, and in every shade of light and dark that they manufacture, we discover something special in their ephemeral theatricality.
A love is never more devastating than when it ends prematurely. In a week that has seen migrant children torn away mercilessly from their parents, we can easily imagine what it feels like to have a heart be broken, not by the object of desire, but by cruel external forces. In a world increasingly adversarial, the dreaded history of Germany in two halves serves as cautionary tale, for what could result from our appetite for strife and disunity. We can all have our own principles, but to let them get in the way of peace, is our biggest offence.