The Captain of Kopenick

Let me first start this post by saying that a couple of weeks ago, I went on a tour of London’s National Theatre. It was a very enjoyable tour and I got to see all three of the theaters that the “National” has to offer; the quaint Cottesloe, the medium-sized Lyttelton, and the massive Olivier. Compared to a lot of London’s buildings, the National Theatre is relatively new. It was officially named the Royal National Theatre in 1988 and allows for very cheap entry-pass memberships (free for people between age 16-25) which include cheap tickets and emails updating on workshops and theatre platforms. Anyways, On my visit to the Olivier Theatre I was fortunate enough to sit in the audience and view the stage while one of the sets was being worked on. This set happened to be “The Captain of Kopenick.” The set looked pretty cool, so I decided I would have to see the show itself. It did not disappoint. 

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The premise of the show is a down-on-his-luck German prisoner who gets out of prison but, because of some error in the judicial system, he lacks any sort of identification papers. This sets the protagonist on a journey to get identification papers and prove that he officially exists. Hilarity ensues when said protagonist finds a second-hand Captain’s uniform and proceeds to act the part as he troops around town hall declaring all sort of nonsense in his quest for the passport and records office. Along with the journey to “find one’s self,” there is also the side-note theme that the Germans will do anything that someone in uniform says. Going so far as to have the Kaiser laugh at the mix up and, instead of berating his people, praises them. Which, although perhaps not politically correct, certainly was entertaining in the show. 

The acting in this show was stupendous. The main character, Wilhelm Voight, had spectacular depth to him, being a screw up who never owns up to anything at one point, a tender father figure the next, a lewd sailor, a pompous Captain, and then finds his purpose and takes his rightful place in society: prison. There are many ups and downs in this comedy, but the ups outweigh the down and I found myself laughing out loud at some points (which doesn’t often happen). The supporting cast was also great. I fell in love with all of the characters, even the nameless ones (or one’s whose names got lost in the action). Wilhelm’s sister and brother-in-law were fabulous and convincing to boot. Also, the petite and portly mayor (shown below in his skivvies) was very funny.

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The sets and scenery were amazing. Somehow, I got a fantastic seat and was dead center in the upper circle of the theatre. This allowed me to see everything onstage. The complexities of this set must have been enormous. There was a revolving circle that made up most of the stage  and as it would revolve, sometimes things like a door would pop up from a slot in the ground, or half of the circle would sink down and its replacement would have a new scene atop of it. One of my favorite scenes was towards the beginning when Wilhelm is at a halfway house. The men all went down into the floor of the stage and slowly the stage crept up so the audience saw what the house was like underground. The rotation of the stage was also used for comic effects, like when one character had too much to drink and almost did a full split with one foot on the rotating part and one on solid ground, all while carrying on a casual drunken conversation. 

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The one and only bad thing I will say about this play is that at times it was hard to hear what the characters were saying. I don’t know if it was the German accents, or just a volume issue, but things were definitely lost and I had many moments where it took a while for me to piece together what was happening. 

Overall, any show with a dancing floating Captain’s uniform at the end has certainly grabbed my attention. Captain of Kopenick grabbed my attention from the very beginning and held it to the not-so-bitter end. 

More posts to come shortly! 

~A

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