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Lotte's Gift
Published on Thursday, 13 August 2009

I wasn't sure what to expect when I turned up at the Assembly Rooms on a sunny lunchtime, ready to see Lotte's Gift. The "hook" was that it included classical guitar playing, my genre of choice. I just hoped that the show wrapped around the music wouldn't detract from it too much.

The reality was that the music was excellent, but that I started to wonder whether it detracted from the play. The ultimate answer, I'm pleased to report, was that it didn't - the pieces selected were well chosen to fit in with the mood at that point in the performance, and also to give a chance to wind down after particularly charged moments.

The show might be described as a musical Who Do You Think You Are?, structured as a conversation between the performer (Karin Schaupp) and her grandmother (Lotte). It starts off in pre-WW2 Germany, covers the war from the "unusual" perspective of a normal family just trying to survive it, and ends up with emigration to Australia. Karin really manages to bring her grandmother to life - this is one talented lady, and by the end of the play you have a good idea where she gets it from. The storytelling is aided by a projected backdrop, showing family snaps of the protagonists at that period - which works better than it sounds!

The story is very personal, rather than earth-shatteringly dramatic, but it is told well and very naturally; the performance never feels forced or artificial. It explores the secret life of Lotte - the areas that, in most families, are kept hidden away. The play does bring a lump to the throat on a number of occasions, leaving me wondering how Karin managed to keep it together through the completely engrossing performance - maybe she found the musical interludes as helpful as I did as an opportunity to regroup emotionally.

I wouldn't recommend this show unreservedly - I'm sure a lot of people might find it too sentimental. However, if you're up for a bit of reflection and some wonderful guitar playing, I'd suggest you get down there. You're in for a treat.

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