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U Boat Down Under

Emma Bassett



Written and directed by Peter Tait Downstage Theatre, 27 July -5 August
U Boat Down Under revisits the story of submarines visiting New Zealand waters in the closing months of the war in 1945. Myths and suspicions abound in the possibilities of such an event, and this play takes a view on what could have happened.
In this account, a U Boat visits the Hawke’s Bay and men venture ashore to capture a sheep and milk a cow after months of deprivation underwater. After hearing rumours of monkey men who live in trees and some such, they bound about for awhile and have a game of football on land. After a searchlight sweeps over them, however, two of the trio rush back to the boat leaving their comrade Kronfeld (Michael Lawrence) ashore. He quite happily settles in to New Zealand life, after meeting the young Mary (Josephine Davison), and refuses to go back to the boat when his fellow Germans come back to rescue him. Dave (Christopher Brougham), Mary’s admirer, spends a good deal of the play chasing “the Hun” and trying to convince everyone that Kronfeld is a German. It is a comical and entertaining story set in a disheartening environment where everyone is wary of one another. The tale is one of belonging and discovery, in a time when society was struggling to come to terms with what is happening in the war.
It was a play of two halves, in more ways than one. The first half of the play started slowly, and it took a while to warm the audience up. It appeared quite fragmented as the action moved between the set of the U Boat and life ashore, and the contrast between the constraints and rigidity of the submarine with freedom on the land. Some of the technical details needed to be tidied up, such as the use of the scaffolding on the set and the lighting (granted it was opening night). After the interval everything seemed tighter: the actors settled into their humorous banter and the story came together. The one liners and casual dialogue between the cast had everyone laughing, as well as the culture shock for a German to settle into life in New Zealand. Terms such as ‘slash’, ‘flutter’, ‘drongos’ and so on were a source of much hilarity and created a good rapport with the audience. Tait has seemed to have realised that a play about history alone could be lacklustre and he skilfully incorporated both clever humour and interesting sub-plots to make it come alive. It was seeing the relationships form between the characters, amid the suspicion towards German people and tension within New Zealand that made the play work.