Taken at Midnight (2017)

Review

Taken at Midnight

There seems to be a renewed interest in Nazi Germany at the moment, particularly on TV, no doubt linked to the rise of right-wing populism in Europe and America. But Mark Hayhurst’s play set in 1930s Germany is less about tyranny than the cost of resistance.

Two true stories play out side by side in this harrowing production. One is the story of Hans Litten (Gareth Withers), a Jewish lawyer who had the audacity to subpoena Adolf Hitler in a trial of four of his foot soldiers accused of murder in 1931. Litten was a clever, slightly vain lawyer, who enjoyed the spectacle of the courtroom and made a fool of Hitler in the witness box. Hitler never forgot the insult, and in 1933 Litten was arrested and incarcerated in a series of concentration camps “for his own protection”. There he suffered the fate of many, many more that were worked to death or simply annihilated, out of sight and out of mind. 

The other story is that of his mother, Irmgard Litten (Deb Relton-Elves), a wealthy aristocratic woman who never gave up in the fight for his release, often without the support of her own family. Hers is a story of a mother’s love that knows no bounds, desperately seeking for a way around the Party’s obstinacy. Her resistance is expressed through her relationship with Dr Conrad (Jon Elves), a senior Gestapo officer who holds the keys to her son’s release and with whom over time she forms an almost intimate relationship as they play cat and mouse in his office. But he is forever the cat: beneath their civilised discourse there is more than a touch of sadism in the way he plays her for the Party’s good.

Irmgard is really the centre of this play, and her lonely fight is deeply moving to behold. Deb Relton-Elves delivers a fine performance, passionate, upright and intelligent. She is ably supported by Gareth Withers as Hans, who reminded me not a little of Kenneth Branagh in his delivery. Two other opponents of tyranny share Hans’ cell and his punishments: the anarchist Erich Muhsam (Dave Crossfield) who bitingly mocks the absurdity of the Nazi ego, and Carl von Ossietzky (George Rippon), who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935 for his exposure of the secret German rearmaments programme. On stage they form a tragic, heroic triumvirate. Matt Sweatman is marvellously pompous as Hans’ father Fritz, a former university chancellor who is sacked for his Jewish background and who yet continues to urge compromise.  Perhaps most disturbing is Steve Brown as Lord Clifford Allen, the tall angular British diplomat and former pacifist who, in those years of appeasement, tries not to rock the Nazi boat too hard and thus conspires in Hans’ death.

Mark Hayhurst has made a career out of writing about Hans Litton. This is a deeply disturbing play that raises difficult questions and touches many nerve endings today.

Nick Le Mesurier

 

 

Just when you thought that everything that could have been said had been said about Germany in the 1930s, along comes a play that gets to the heart of what it took for individual Germans to question and resist the rise of Nazi power.  And that immediately raises another question for members of the audience: how far would I have gone in the circumstances?

At the heart of Taken at Midnight is the relationship between Irmgard Litten and her son, Hans, a brilliant young lawyer who had made the mistake of humiliating one Adolf Hitler during a court case in 1931.  Two years later, Hans has been moved from courtroom to courtyard – a prison courtyard where he is beaten and tortured.  He is not alone.  But he is in “protective custody”, according to a Gestapo officer simply known as “Doctor” Conrad, played with chilling slipperiness by Jon Elves.   To try to get around the Doctor, Irmgard has to compromise by heil-ing Hitler and putting on a show of dignified restraint. Deb Relton-Elves gives a fine performance as a woman struggling to hold herself together when the world around her is falling apart. The Criterion can be proud of its Elves. By the time Irmgard finally gets to see her son, Hans has been moved on to Dachau.  Allowing some Jewish blood to flow through his veins was his ultimate crime, it seems. In a deeply touching penultimate scene, a self-assured and fiercely intelligent young man has been reduced to a bent, shaven-headed figure in striped pyjamas.  Clever lighting focuses attention on himself and his mother while the SS guards lurk in the shadows.  Gareth Withers as Hans then rises even further to the occasion in a flashback to the court scene where we have a glimpse of his cockiness as he shows off the lawyerly skills that led to his downfall.               

Anne-marie Greene’s direction makes the most of a cleverly adaptive set that switches swiftly between the domestic, the official and the brutally judicial.  In just a few years, the law has been reduced to the whims of one man and the merciless menace of the thugs that enforce his will. At a time when right-wing populism is on the rise once more, Mark Hayhurst’s play seems more unsettlingly relevant than it might have been just a few years ago.

Chris Arnot

 

Another tour de force from actors at the the Criterion led by  Deb Relton-Elves and Gareth Withers who take on the roles of real-life mother Irmgard Litten and her son Hans.

Director Anne-marie Greene is right when she says not many of us know about the true story of Hans Litten, the German lawyer who had the audacity to summon Nazi party leader Adolf Hitler to court in 1931.Litten wanted an explanation for the increasing violence of the party's SA stormtroopers.  An embarrassed Hitler said it was simply the "sports section."At that time few among Germany's educated classes would have put bets on him actually winning an election.   

This dramatisation of real events by Mark Hayhurst offers both a fascinating, terrifying and personal look at what came next. 

The Criterion is the first non-professional company to stage this powerful play which follows the fate of Litten despite the unflagging efforts of his well-connected mother who won support from senor German officials, British diplomats and even Prince Wilhelm of Prussia. 

Really it's her story, told with elegance and so many powerful pauses, as fashionable Irmgard drinks tea with vacillating Gestapo officer (Jon Elves) and the action switches seamlessly from office, to lodgings to prison. 

There was some loss of dramatic edge during Act Two with a couple of overlong scenes - but none involving Gareth Withers, who commands even the smallest stage space he's forced to occupy. 

As Litten rots in "protective custody" he seems to be forgotten by everyone except his mother. And a vengeful Fuhrer shamed in court by a smart-alec, half-Jewish lawyer who'd  once joked that Germans throwing flowers in the path of the Nazis had left the plant pots attached.

Barbara Goulden

https://www.elementarywhatson.com