Until 17 Mar 2018

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Ingrid Garner’s one-woman show, based on her grandmother’s experiences growing up during WWII, has received critical acclaim around the world. She brings “Eleanor’s Story” to the Adelaide Fringe Festival for the third time, and it’s been the recipient of multiple five star reviews, to the point where this one perhaps even seems redundant. But the fact is, the show could not be more deserving of the accolades and praise, and it is an honour to add mine.

Ingrid Garner commands the stage from the moment she enters it. With her only props a shipping truck, two chairs and a jar of water, Garner brings Eleanor’s experiences living as an American in Hitler’s Germany into the Tandanya Theatre, to moving and powerful results. It’s a family story, a coming of age story, and a war story, juxtaposing childlike innocence with the worst of humanity. The story of the war is told through young Eleanor’s eyes, and we are limited to her understanding of what is happening around her. This creates an alarming effect of confusion and foreboding, even as we know more than the character does. Recordings of news broadcasts and the sounds of battle add to the sense that what is going on is out of Eleanor’s control, and how much of her life is controlled by these huge, unseen forces which she does not really comprehend.

No word is wasted, and no moment isn’t used to powerful effect throughout the entirety of Garner’s performance. With the smallest shift in her posture, she transforms herself into the significant figures in Eleanor’s life, from her cold but strong mother, her seemingly wise older brother, even to a gossiping woman on the street. She is able to portray the complexity of the situation in a way that feels universal, and it is captivating.

We often speak about history in broad strokes: the significant battles, the number of casualties, or the political, strategic moves. “Eleanor’s Story”, however, is deeply intimate and personal, and makes the reality of that devastating time come into sharp focus. We watch Eleanor reach milestones of puberty, alongside witnessing horrific violence that no child should have to endure. We see her grow and change from nine to fifteen and all that entails, at the same time as we’re watching the world change around her.

“Eleanor’s Story” is the best of example of art. It is art that reflects the experience of being human, broadens our perspective, and increases our empathy. It is truly extraordinary, in every sense of the word.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)