The End of the Night (Park Theatre)

Posted: May 5, 2022 in Theatre
Photo: Mark Douet

Writer: Ben Brown

Director: Alan Strachan

World War II has thrown up many unlikely stories and they continue to emerge, but few could be so strange as a meeting to discuss peace between a Jewish leader and Adolf Hitler’s deputy. We are told that such a meeting actually happened in the early hours of an April morning in 1945 and Ben Brown’s new one-act play imagines how events transpired.

Dr Felix Kersten (Michael Lumsden) is an eminent Finnish physiotherapist based in Sweden, who has as a client Heinrich Himmler. He sees himself able to act as a go-between, bringing together Himmler and the Swedish Jew, Norbert Masur, representing the World Jewish Congress. The objective is to secure the release to the international Red Cross of Jews held in concentration camps, thereby preventing a much worse fate for them before the War comes to its now inevitable end.

The meeting takes place in Kersten’s Berlin home, occupied by his housekeeper, Elizabeth (Audrey Palmer). Allied bombers are flying overhead and the Russians are advancing from the East as we listen to the voice of Goebbels over the radio, paying an annual birthday tribute to Hitler, who is holed up in his bunker, unaware of Himmler’s mission.

Richard Clothier’s Himmler has the arrogant air of an old Etonian and, thankfully, no affected German accent. It is clear from the outset that Ben Caplan’s mild manner Masur would be no match for him. The key mystery is why Himmler, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust, would want to justify himself to the Jewish community and seek atonement; the play solves it in a manner that is persuasive when spoken, but leaves lingering doubts. This Himmler is a man who has come to believe in his own propaganda, yet he is also a realist who sees a remote chance that he can lead post-War Germany in an alliance with former enemies against the rising threat of the Russian Bolsheviks.

The playwright’s lucid style is largely humourless, but he brings to the fore all the bitter ironies in the conversations, without overplaying them, while focussing firmly on the detailed facts of the history that he is relating. Director Alan Strachan’s unspectacular staging matches the text perfectly, never seeking dramatic flashpoints, but bringing out solid performances to carry the weight. A testimony from a concentration camp survivor (Olivia Bernstone) ends the play movingly, making it clear that there are no Oscar Schindlers in this story, just pragmatists working to achieve their own different goals.

Brown exposes the dirty business of ending a dirty war. While watching this chilling play, it becomes impossible to stop the mind wandering to current events in Eastern Europe, which will also, at some point, have to be resolved. The night over which this drama unfolds comes to an end, but, seemingly the nightmare is endless.

Performance date: 3 May 2022

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