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The End of the Night
Park Theatre, London
BASED on a recorded meeting between Heinrich Himmler and a representative of the World Jewish Congress in the final days of the second world war, this is a little-known encounter with fascinating dramatic potential.
With Berlin awaiting the arrival of the Allied forces, Himmler was persuaded by his physiotherapist to meet a Jewish activist without Hitler’s knowledge to discuss the possible release of concentration camp inmates as an act of goodwill.
Ben Brown’s exploration of this late-night meeting at a hunting lodge just outside Berlin focuses largely on Himmler, played with menacing earnestness and charm by Richard Clothier.
His justification for the extirpation of the Jews trots out many of the Holocaust denial arguments in an attempt to salvage something from the end of the war, but the real interest is watching a fervid nationalist and fundamental supporter of Nazi ideals try to come to terms with Hitler’s downfall.
Clothier provides a sincere and chilling portrayal of a monster attempting to justify the worst of crimes.
Ben Caplan’s Jewish delegate is little more than a horrified bystander faced with the architect of the concentration camps and the knowledge that the man he is meeting holds the fate of so many Jewish lives.
The real interest comes in Michael Lumsden’s intermediary role as Doctor Kersten, Himmler’s masseur trying to persuade the Reichsfuehrer that it is in his interest to organise the release of some camp inmates to the Red Cross. His pragmatic approach to both parties effectively walks a tightrope.
Alan Strachan economically directs the taut encounter with few excess flourishes while Michael Pavelka’s basic, dark wood set and Jason Tyler’s subdued lighting all add to the nightmarish quality of the meeting.
The dramatic problem in the end is the unequal balance of power within the scene.
There can be no real discussion, no dispute, just an exploration of an infamous psychopath forced to judge his actions for his own and his country’s possible salvation.
As such, it is captivating depiction of a man whose eventual suicide precluded any formal trial.
Runs until May 28, box office: parktheatre.co.uk.
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