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Water

"a story that grabs you and refuses to let go"

Mark Langham's new play Water tells the story of German spy Carl Hans Lody, who paid the ultimate price for not being very good at his job.

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Category: Theatre
Show: Water
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How to Win Friends (and Die Doing So)

Date: 21 Oct 2019

It’s human nature to love an underdog.

Your resolve does get tested a little when said dog is plotting to kill you but, still …

I came across the name of Carl Hans Lody on the 100th anniversary of his execution on November 6, 1914.

On the day, rather quaintly, he was shot by the British in the miniature rifle range at the Tower of London. Makes you wonder what sort of function was going on in the full-sized rifle range.

His violent end brought to a close his chaotic, intriguing, misfortunate and, ultimately, wasted young life.

Lody was a German spy at the beginning of the First World War. Correction, he was a terrible German spy. Without training, with few natural gifts other than a facility for languages and a reasonable American accent, he was sent to Britain by his masters to report on ship movements and anything else that caught his eye and to try, as long as possible, to avoid capture.

He lasted six weeks. Everything you read about Lody emphasises how much he was liked by everyone who crossed his path, including, and especially, his executioners. It made me think about the sort of man who could inspire feelings of such kindliness while carrying out his despicable duties.

Orphaned by the age of eight, like many before and since, he sought a new family in the Navy. Illness forced him from the Imperial German Navy to the Merchant fleet where he met and married the daughter of an enormously rich American brewery owner.

The marriage failed and, clutching a large cheque, Lody returned in shame to Germany where his language skills attracted the attention of the nascent German Naval Intelligence. He was sent to Britain with wholly inadequate training and, shock, was caught, tried and executed in no time flat.

So, how do you capture his story, that takes in world travel, romance on the high seas, terrible personal hardships, and put it on a stage?

The cast of characters involved in his life is vast, far too vast for all but the most fortunate theatre company, so I decided just to write the story as I wanted and worry about the practicalities later. Eventually, I had 45 or so people running around but I reckoned you could portray this with four performers, if you got the right ones.

This isn’t done as a gimmick. It keeps the focus squarely on Lody and his seemingly unavoidable meeting with a firing squad. People and events swirl around him with increasing rapidity and, although we tell the tale with humour and affection, Lody’s sense of loss and foreboding builds towards the end of the play.

Lody’s death was just as tragic, wasteful and lamentable as any other death in that accursed war but his is, we immodestly claim, a story that grabs you and refuses to let go even when you’ve shot it.

Water plays at Fringe HQ, 24 Bayswater Road, Kings Cross, November 5-16.

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