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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Captain Of Kopenick
Olivier Theatre  Spring  2013

In 1910 Berlin a poor shnook of a loser impulsively buys a military uniform from a costume shop and discovers that Germans, military and civilian, happily follow any orders he gives them. 

That's a summary of Act Two of the frequently very funny current production of Carl Zuckmayer's 1931 social satire, and you may have spotted one of its problems right there. 

Essentially nothing happens in Act One, except for establishing our hero's shnookness (shnookdom? shnookiosity?) and making another of Zuckmayer's points, that all poor people are good and warm-hearted and all people with money or power are corrupt and degenerate.

(That point is made rather heavy-handedly, with a pathetically dying poor girl and a drunken military ball, and through the fulminations of a bolshie secondary character, but it does get made.) 

The episodes of the hero's downtrodden life in the first half, and of his vengeful triumphs in the second, do have a lot of simple stage comedy to them, that sometimes sits uncomfortably alongside the sentimentality and social criticism, and director Adrian Noble's sure hand slips sometimes at the joins, as when he throws in a bit of silent film-style slapstick only to have to drop it abruptly as the play's tone shifts, or when he clearly doesn't quite know what to do with the play's ironic ending. 

The central role is an ideal one for Antony Sher, not only exploiting his talent for broad comedy but allowing him to employ his signature style of braying at other actors rather than engaging realistically with them. 

A limitation in more naturalistic roles, it works here because his character is consciously performing, creating a different persona to appeal to everyone he meets. 

The play's episodic structure means that few other characters are around for more than a scene or two, but their brief appearances allow Robert Demeger to register as a fellow jailbird, Anthony O'Donnell as a corrupt mayor, Adrian Schiller as the red, Barnaby Kay as an honourable soldier and Nick Sampson as a bemused government official.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  The Captain Of Kopenick - National Theatre 2013 

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