Tunnels review – subterranean escape attempt gets bogged down

Two cousins are desperately trying to dig their way out of 1960s East Berlin. Part of a season of double-bill shows, this one-hour cold war drama is paired with Press and written by Oliver Yellop, who also performs alongside Lewis Bruniges.

As the pair dig beneath the Berlin Wall, they speak about the consequence of getting captured and their terror of the Stasi. Paul (Bruniges) describes his traumatic flashbacks to the time he tried to scale the Wall, when he was caught and imprisoned, while Freddie (Yellop) dreams of making a new life with his girlfriend. Both crave the freedoms that lie in the west.

Directed by Colin Ellwood, the action takes place in lamplight, on a ramp-like structure, with intervals of darkness. The writing shows promise but there is not much action on the stage, apart from the digging. There are some powerful and poignant moments but these feel isolated. It ends up feeling static as a drama, with occasional clunky voiceovers giving words and their definitions from a Stasi dictionary, which becomes a clue to the final twist.

Related: Press review – a dodgy journalist has a Damascene conversion

Dramatic tension builds with the men’s panic or claustrophobia, but it is not quite sustained enough, although both actors give strong performances.

The music, composed by Benji Hooper, is comprised of evocative electronic notes and screeches – although the play begins with the live twangs of what sounds like Spanish guitar, performed by Niall Ransome, which seems strangely out of keeping with its 1960s Berlin setting.

It is original subject matter, economically performed, that combines the genres of crime caper with political noir, but it feels like it has yet to yield its true potential.

Until 10 December.