Lotte’s Gift

Roundhouse Theatre (Ensemble Productions & Christine Dunstan Productions)


By David Williamson

Written for and performed by Karin Schaupp

Professional production

At first I thought it was going to be a kind of William Yang slide show, a long autobiographical set of photographs with a flat narrative. That’s certainly the format, but there’s lots more colour and movement here, especially when you add professional guitar solos of concert standard, a script by David Williamson, a gently Australianised Mittel-Europe set, and so much emotion and over-welling love that you may want to weep.

The show is Karin Schaupp’s homage to her grandmother Lieselotte Reinke (the Lotte of the title), who was born in Germany, lived through World War II and the 1945 bombings, and eventually migrated to Australia to live with her daughter and granddaughter. The physical and emotional closeness of the relationship has meant that Karen got to know her grandmother better than most grandchildren have the opportunity to do, and David Williamson has crafted her unremarkable story into a charming but ultimately undemanding script, that allows Schaupp free rein to expose her own undoubted musical talents and to indulge in some unashamed self-promotion as well as express her love.

For my money, the slides were the best part of the show – I’m always a sucker for family photographs, especially when they’re of people we know as well as we come to know Lotte through the narration. Williamson/Schaupp make no attempt to tone down Lotte’s unashamedly high self-esteem, and although granddaughter Karin insists that she’s the very opposite of Lotte in this way, the fact that she herself approached Williamson with the desire for him to write a show where she could act as well as play the guitar, and her own self-promotion in the second half, make me wonder about the truth of such an insistence.

At more than 2½ hours it’s a very long show for a solo performer, and although Schaupp is a very talented musician, she’s not yet an actor. There’s a certain monotony in her bodily and facial expressions that she probably could have got away with in a 60 minute show, but this production was far too long, basically because nothing much happens, and there’s no attempt made to dramatise the trauma of the bombings, for example, or the genuine emotional conflict that Lotte had to go through when she realised the man she had thought was lost came back to claim her after she was married. Giving up her career, which would have probably led to fame and fortune, for the sake of her marriage, was another issue that could have been rendered more dramatically, but it’s all relayed in a kind of sweetness-and-light manner that ultimately becomes cloying – in both of Schaupp’s voices, the quaintly accented one of Lotte and her own Australian voice.

The fact that both Lotte and her daughter Isolde (Karin’s mother) were in the audience on opening night made it even more suffocatingly cosy, and with all due respect to the three women, the show would have been more dramatic if there had been some kind of ending, rather than just the tender fade-to-contentment which has been Lotte’s fate. That’s the trouble with biographies of living people, that there can be no concluding drama, and I have to say that this was more like a Women’s Weekly feel-good story than an exciting journey through a tumultuous historical period. If it hadn’t been for Williamson’s redemptive script I would probably have left at interval.

But even with those reservations, I found it a very sweet show, and if my own grandchildren grow up relating to me like that, I’ll die a happy woman.

Director David Williamson

Designer Graham McLean

Playing until Saturday 5 May 2007: Tuesday and Wednesday at 6.30pm, Thursday – Saturday at 8pm

Duration : 2 hours 15 minutes, with one 20-minute interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Wed 28th March 2007)