We spoke to actor and writer Oliver Yellop about his upcoming performance of Tunnels that’s taking part in Park Theatre’s Make Mine A Double programme
Tell us a bit about your show
Tunnels is the story of two cousins attempt to dig underneath the Berlin Wall to escape their lives in East Germany at the height of the Cold War. Paul and Freddie while both in the same hole, so to speak, have entirely different reasons for wanting to leave their homes in the East. One cousin, Paul is a dissident – he has previously tried to escape and spent time in the dreaded Hohenshonausen prison at the mercy of the ministry of state security. For Paul, the west is a new shot at life, away from the sins and disgraces of the past. Paul has an ideological drive to dig. Freddie, on the other hand, doesn’t have things so bad in the East. He has a job and a girlfriend he loves dearly. However, the promises of western materialism is enough to get him to pick up a shovel and dig.
As the boys dig, they discuss politics, history, Germany, freedom and the practicalities of digging a massive tunnel, all the while hoping and praying their great endeavour doesn’t come crashing down around them.
Tell us a bit about you and your company
Further Theatre is an Essex based theatre company that produces works of historical fiction that shines a light on little known stories and individuals that have made an impact great and small in the world we live in. All of our shows feature live music on stage and we seek to present history as a dynamic, imaginative, physical and aural experience.
Our previous show I am Gavrilo Princip told the story of the assassin that shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914. The show has been performed at The Bush Theatre, The Queens Theatre Hornchurch and The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
We’ve also performed our work in schools for history and drama students – we’re all about theatre in education or at least making it as fun as possible. Educate, Inspire, Entertain, that’s what we’re aiming for!
What interested you most during your research into the history of the Berlin Wall?
Researching for a show I’m writing is one of my favourite aspects of putting a show together. Two great inspirations for the show was the book ‘Stasiland’ by Anna Funder and the podcast ‘Tunnel 29’ by Helena Merriman.
I suppose one thing that I found most interesting was the persuasive nature of the Stasi – the secret police that turned East Germany into one of the World’s largest open prisons. At one time, up to 200,000 people were either employed by, or working indirectly with the Stasi – 1 in 63 people in the entire country we’re employed to keep the wall up and make sure no one could make it over the 3.6 metres of concrete that divided the west from the east.
What would you like the audience to take away from the show?
What I would like the audience to take away from the show is a new perspective on what the wall was and what life was like behind it. The wall fell over 30 years ago, it was built as swiftly as it collapsed. The world behind the wall is gone, it sunk into the waves of history like a kind of red Atlantis, leaving many of us puzzled as to what was there and why it existed in the first place.
What does taking part in Make Mine A Double mean to you?
It means the world to us! I wrote the show over lockdown where the situation itself felt kind of like digging a tunnel, inching forward day by day into the unknown, just having to keep moving forward. The first time we performed it we were given a grant by Army@TheFringe, a venue run by the British Army that sponsors shows to perform at the fringe and who have been great to work with. By the time the show and funding were confirmed we only had two months to get it together – a daunting prospect at the time. Thankfully the team behind this project are incredible. The other actor in the show is my dear friend Lewis Briniges who is simply a massive talent, we worked together on various projects at The Queens theatre Hornchurch as part of ‘Essex on Stage’. The director is also another great friend with tremendous experience, Colin Ellwood. As a team we’ve been through a lot and to see our hard work, passion and dedication bring us to London’s best off west end theatre is truly a testament to these people’s talent. I can’t thank them or the great folks at Park Theatre enough for their support.
Tell us about the other show you’re paired with
The other show we are paired with is Press, a dark tale about the world of tabloid journalism by Sam Hoare. I really respect Sam as an actor from his work with Matt Smith on Bert and Dickie. I think this is a great pairing as both the stories have a kind of dark context and are based largely on real life events.
Tunnels will be performed between the 28th November – 10 December at Park Theatre. More information and tickets here