Leeds University students tell the story of the fall of the Berlin Wall in a new play

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which acted as a catalyst for the subsequent dismantling of the former Soviet bloc and, eventually, led to the reunification of Germany.

November 1989, East and West Germans stand on the Berlin Wall.
November 1989, East and West Germans stand on the Berlin Wall.

It was a time of great optimism and hope which a generation who lived through the Cold War perhaps remember now with a tinge of nostalgia.

As division and conflict appear to be once again part of our everyday lives, both nationally and globally, a timely new play created by a group of third year Theatre and Performance students at the University of Leeds explores how humanity deals with differences of opinion, often putting up barriers that hinder peace and understanding.

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Fall of the Berlin Wall and the story behind it 30 years onSides, which will be performed at [email protected] next month, aims to challenge audiences by confronting them with the negative outcomes of dividing.

Rehearsals for Sides, a production inspired by the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by University of Leeds students.

“Thinking about the fall of the Berlin Wall, we realised how relevant it was to today and our current political climate,” says Lili Fletcher one of the students involved in the project. “As young people we are very aware of what the UK is going through at the moment and how that’s going to affect us in the future.”

The Berlin Wall divided families and friends in the German city for 28 years and was a microcosm of the wider division of Germany, split into West and East along political lines since the end of the Second World War. During the course of their research for Sides, the group discovered other walls around the world, such as the Belfast peace walls, the wall between Cyprus and Turkey, and they discussed President Trump’s oft-repeated intention to build a wall along the US/Mexico border.

As The Wizard of Oz comes to Leeds Playhouse we talk to artistic director James Brining“Walls are really not something of the past,” says Fletcher. “Everyone remembers the Berlin Wall as being horrible so why are we continuing to divide places and people?” Having watched documentaries and read news articles about the Berlin Wall and the impact it had on people’s lives, the group gathered together a number of stories.

They then began creating and workshopping characters and devising scenes, working closely with a writing team. “Some of the play is verbatim, most of it is factual and some parts are fictional but everything is based on true stories and situations,” says Fletcher. “And we made sure we had a balance of characters from the East and the West.”

Rehearsals for Sides.

Two very different plays that put the spotlight on ageing and how it is portrayedThe final piece contains four main scripted stories which are all linked in some way. “There is a father and son relationship from the East, looking at how the wall has divided their family, a secret love affair, also set in the East, that shows how division creates secrets. There is also a story about a woman in the West who is hiding her identity and finally a story about a group of young people in the West who have always lived in a divided city and are trying to find a way to voice their opinions and how they feel about those divisions and the East.”

Earlier this month as part of the project, the students created an installation on campus, setting up a washing line upon which they pegged pictures of places around the world where walls or division still exist.

“People were curious about what we were doing and we had some great conversations,” says Fletcher. “It was an opportunity to remember that there are walls everywhere and that felt really important.”

Sides, [email protected], December 5-7. Tickets stage.leeds.ac.uk