Review: Eleanor’s Story

Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany is a remarkable and moving solo performance based on the true story of a young American girl caught in World War II Berlin. ★★★★★

Feb 21, 2017, updated Feb 24, 2017

The show is a theatrical adaptation of Eleanor Ramrath Garner’s autobiography and is performed by her granddaughter, Ingrid Garner, who returns to the Adelaide Fringe after successful runs in 2015 and 2016.

When Eleanor was just nine, her father was offered a lucrative position at a firm in Berlin, at which point he uprooted his young family from their suburban home in Stratford, New Jersey, to move them to Germany. During the boat ride across the Atlantic, Hitler declared war on Great Britain and France and they were unable to return to the US.

The story of Eleanor and her family is bursting with excitement and adventure, but also anguish and dismay.

Narrating as a young Eleanor, Ingrid Garner provides an insight into these emotions through the eyes of a child. We see how the girl viewed her family; how she adored her older brother Frank, was in awe of her amazing mother, and intimidated by her daunting father (all played by Garner).

Using only two chairs and a trunk, along with her own gestures and descriptive language, Garner re-creates all the places from her grandmother’s childhood. Her ability to paint such a tangible and vivid picture with so few items is extraordinary.

Playing throughout the performance is a backdrop of black and white photographs and discerning sound effects which place the audience deeper within the scene.

Garner’s performance is elevated by her ability to re-create Eleanor’s family through the eyes of the young girl. The innocence of a child is a state of mind that many performers have tried and failed to emulate. That certain mix of fragility, unyielding optimism and higher level of awareness is truly wonderful, and it makes the experience of seeing this show all the more astonishing.

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Each character has their own stance, set of facial expressions and accents, so audience members instantly recognise them when they appear.

Ingrid Garner’s solo performance is remarkable – a thing of elegance that delivers unique insight into an important piece of human history.

Five stars

Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany is being presented at Tandanya Theatre until March 19.

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