Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Theatre review: Taken at Midnight

With the true scale of Hitler's plan years away from becoming generally known, the 1930s saw many in Germany start to fear their chancellor was far more dangerous than he appeared, but the world at large wasn't yet willing to risk taking action against him. In Mark Hayhurst's Taken at Midnight, one dissenting voice within Germany is Jewish lawyer Hans Litten (Martin Hutson,) who in a case against the Nazi party's militant Brownshirts dared to call Hitler himself to the witness stand. It was a deliberate humiliation that wouldn't be forgotten: Once the party come to power, Hans is arrested in the night and imprisoned "for his own protection." As the Nazis' power becomes absolute, he is moved from concentration camp to concentration camp, tortured for information on his former clients. His mother Irmgard, meanwhile, doggedly pursues the SS for news of her son, campaigning for his safe release.

Penelope Wilton isn't an actress you go to for unnecessary histrionics, so she's a firm centre to the play as Irmgard, fiercely chasing up any possible avenue, her emotions always kept in check but never in any question.

Her attempts include trying to get support from a sympathetic English peer, but most of her dealings are with SS officer Dr Conrad (John Light,) who has a chilling ability to dissociate himself from the treatment of Hans that he himself condones, believing he can make casual chit-chat with his mother when he bumps into her in the park.

Jonathan Church's production originated in Chichester, and doesn't sit entirely comfortably in its current home, the freezing barn that is the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Though played against an epic backdrop the story itself is essentially an intimate one, and it feels exposed in the huge surroundings. In particular the play takes a long time to find its feet; it relies too much on Irmgard's narration straight to the audience, interspersed with scenes of Hans in a cell with fellow dissidents Carl (Mike Grady) and Erich (Pip Donaghy,) which initially have an almost Beckettian feel.

The story touches on the idea that mothers will do anything for their children while fathers can't deal with the worst without giving themselves a layer of detachment. But Allan Corduner's Fritz is so sidelined by the story that he comes across as barely caring what happens to his wife or son. The show's visually impressive, Tim Mitchell's lighting casting ominous shadows across Robert Jones' set; and Wilton's measured but moving performance is counterpointed by a fiery one from Hutson. I just think it would be better served by more intimacy than this venue has to offer.

Taken at Midnight by Mark Hayhurst is booking until the 14th of March at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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