The End of the Night
Reviewed – 3rd May 2022
“The fine cast … do their best to instil compassion and nuance but are obstructed by too many facts and a stilted script”
On 19th April 1945 Norbert Masur, a Swedish activist and highly regarded representative of the World Jewish Congress, boarded a plane, emblazoned with a swastika, from Stockholm to Berlin. From there he was taken under cover of darkness to the home of Felix Kersten, Heinrich Himmler’s personal physiotherapist. Understandably Masur comes with fear and loathing; especially as it has been arranged for him to meet with the Reichsführer to persuade him to release prisoners from the Nazi concentration camps. It is the eve of Hitler’s final birthday; Germany’s surrender is imminent, and the Third Reich is collapsing. Days are numbered. The covert meeting is taking place without the Fürher’s knowledge. Himmler’s betrayal of Hitler is casting off its cloak of caution it seems, although we cannot trust his reasons for agreeing to the meeting.
The premise is riveting and Jason Taylor’s lighting with Michael Pavelka’s design evoke the right degree of trepidation and tension. Yet while the stakes are high, Ben Brown’s text and Alan Strachan’s staging bring them down to almost floor level in this rather lifeless production. The language has the dull flavour of domesticity that makes light of the shadows and the foreshadows that hang over the topics addressed. Ben Caplan’s Norbert Masur bookends the piece with context setting exposition which is mirrored by the overly urbane and polite dialogue that misrepresents the awful details. The fine cast, including Richard Clothier as the self-assured Himmler and Michael Lumsden as an amiable and slightly obsequious Kersten, do their best to instil compassion and nuance but are obstructed by too many facts and a stilted script.
It should be shocking. The denial of the Holocaust – a vicious product of Nazism and anti-Semitism – is a shocking historical fact. But we need more than Himmler stating, in a rather lazy RP, “I personally have never had a problem with your people”, or “I’ve never acted maliciously”. There is talk of “burying the hatchet” that bounces off the exposition so incongruously that it feels almost like a comedy sketch. Yet the introduction of humour arrives like a nervous gate crasher. If Brown is attempting irony, it doesn’t work.
Himmler left the meeting promising to release a thousand Jews form the camps. Masur is not satisfied but, as he says, ‘it’s a start’. We leave the auditorium with similar misgivings. Olivia Bernstone, as one of the survivors of the camp, suddenly appears and delivers a footnote describing the release from her perspective. Dramatically it is out of place, but it does add a touch of poignancy albeit too little too late.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Douet
The End of the Night
Park Theatre until 28th May
Previously reviewed at this venue: