A tight 80-minute three-hander (two other minor characters appear briefly), this play is not an easy watch but it is quite brilliant, and lends itself perfectly to the digital format.
Sadly I had to drop out from reviewing this when it ran at the Park Theatre, but Original Theatre have now created a streamed version, and so I am now able to feature Ben Brown’s clever, sharp, and heavily detailed play.
Felix Karsten, personal physiotherapist to Himmler, facilitates a meeting between the Nazi leader and Norbert Masur, representative of the Wotld Jewish Congress.
Brown takes this historical meeting and imagines what was said behind closed doors. Behind the facade of forced politeness and dogged idealism, the script is constantly diverting and disturbing.
Himmer (played by Richard Clothier) is depicted as a man of deeply held and atrocious opinions, yet complex and at times, vulnerable and lost. Just a man following orders, or someone adept in passing the buck?
This is not a caricature of horror or villainy, but of a soldier who held a real belief that the way of the conflict was correct; that his hatred of a whole people was justified. His antisemitic rhetoric is repugnant and matter of fact.
Masur (played by Ben Caplan), and Kersten (played by Michael Lumsden) are both pawns and powerhouses in the game of diplomacy, to save the lives of those left in the camps. Their quest is tense, honorable, and measured. You cannot reason with evil without humouring or flattering it.
The conversation depicted here is completely believable, from the bonhomie between Karsten (desperate to leave with his German wife) and Himmler, to Masur’s hardly disguised distaste of the whole idea of even tolerating the presence of a mass-murderer for the greater good.
Himmler himself is shown to wrestle with his conscience yet still looking out for number one. Clothier’s portrayal is horrific in its affected humanity: as the historical record of this meeting shows, he had the most to say.
Caplan’s Masur has the least to do, but it is a dignified portrayal of someone who would surely rather choke the man he was meeting than shake his hand.
Kersten is another tricky character, duplicitous and self-serving. His motives are unclear, but his manner assured. Not a likeable man, but one an audience might understand.
In Alan Strachan’s production, presented without a break in one location for most of the running time, the plight of the Jews who few countries would take on offers parallels to the current refugee situation.
Image credit: Mark Douet