It seems that these days that one cannot look at a newspaper without being assaulted by headlines spelling the end of the world as we know it. Hurrah for Oxford’s theatre companies, then, for not giving in to temptation and bombarding us with trite, saccharine productions designed patronisingly to cheer us all up!

After the bleak Richard III and the bleaker Endgame, our latest foray into the depths of dramatic depression is Through the Leaves, the work of German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz. The play tragically charts the story of lovers Martha and Otto, a tripe butcher and a chauvinist drifter, whose precarious relationship is retold through entries in Martha’s diary. As the play unfolds, we bear witness to Otto’s abuse of Martha’s hospitality; his uncomfortable mind games and his cruel periods of absence finally leave Martha hopelessly devoted and powerless.

The sheer intensity and skill demanded is met with confident professionalism by this award-winning cast. Cuppers Best Actress Ed Pearce is outstanding as Martha, perfectly demonstrating the character’s helplessness, dead-end love and eroded self-confidence.

She is utterly believable, perfectly capturing the sinister flirtatiousness of early scenes with her co-star Barney Norris, in which the pair emphasise the characters’ common vulnerability. My only minor quibble was with Pearce’s inane chuckling in almost every other sentence, which very quickly grows tiresome.

A play as intimate as this could have no better venue than the BT, where uncomfortable realism will bombard the audience through their unavoidable proximity to the action. I applaud director Alice Hamiltons’s choice of recorded diary entries: lucid and emotive, it is an ingenious touch.

A few slips and slight hastiness of dialogue let this play down, but I’m sure such problems will be smoothed out with
last-minute preparation. This is not a play to see if you’re looking to be cheered up, but if it’s a beautiful depiction of flawed love and a doomed relationship that you are after, Through the Leaves is an absolute must.

Four stars