Taken at Midnight, Theatre Royal Haymarket, January 2015Posted on 27 January 2015
This debut play by Mark Hayhurst about the viciousness inherent in the early days of the Nazi regime began its West End production in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day, after a highly successful start in Jonathan Church’s gripping production at Chichester last summer.
It illustrates the Nazi regime in its very early days, through the story of one man and his mother. That man, the lawyer Hans Litten, subpoenaed Hitler to appear at a Berlin court in the trial of four SA members in 1931. The SA (Sturm Abteilung or Storm Department) was a nasty brutish organisation, which Hitler later abandoned, murdering many of their principal commanders, though when he came to power in 1933 he still needed them. Litten was duly persecuted for his earlier prosecution and imprisoned in a concentration camp staffed by the SA, where we see the result of gross mistreatment and physical abuse.
His mother Irmgard tries to support him and get him out, and this play is as much about her as him. Penelope Wilton plays the role beautifully, conjuring up the sincerity, charm and fortitude of this woman from a Lutheran academic family in Prussia. Her husband Fritz Litten, distinguished jurist and law professor, admirably portrayed by Alan Corduner, is a well-connected realist. He seeks help from the British Lord Allen (David Yelland), a dapper and aloof man whose concern with human rights and a wish not to offend the new German regime leads nowhere. Litten is merely transferred from one place to another, ending up in Dachau where he died in 1938.
In the meantime Martin Hutson conveys the passion and intellect of this lawyer who insisted on representing the poor and downtrodden rather than taking a well-remunerated position for the State or a private law firm. We don’t see the Hitler trial, except in recollection with Roger Allam as the off-stage voice of Hitler, but we do see relations between mother and son, and her ability to handle the authorities, in particular Gestapo officer Dr. Conrad in a compelling and sympathetic portrayal by John Light.
This well-crafted, multi-dimensional play gives insight into the conflicting forces of violent bigotry and conservative stability that made some believe optimistically that all would settle down in the end. Yet that was to be in denial of the malign force behind what happened, and this drama reminds us of what occurred in Germany before the War and the death camps. With the later atrocities, Hans Litten’s story was largely forgotten, but brave men refused to be cowed and Pip Donaghy’s cameo performance of fierce defiance was a moment to treasure.
Performances continue until March 14 — for details click here.