Edinburgh Fringe 2019
A dark comedy about the young women who had the “honour” of being Adolf Hitler’s food tasters. Based on true events, Hitler’s Tasters explores the way girls navigate sexuality, friendship, patriotism, and the possibility of poison in every meal, during the Third Reich. Using an anachronistic retelling of an historical footnote, Hitler’s Tasters considers what girls discuss as they wait to see if they will survive another meal.
Described as ‘an anachronistic retelling of an historical footnote’, Hitler’s Tasters presents a picture of the young women who tasted Hitler’s every meal before he ate it to ensure it wasn’t poisoned. We meet five over the course of the play; however, there were fifteen in all, selected by the local mayor, whose job it was to eat a meal prepared from the same ingredients that Hitler would eat.
It takes a few minutes to get used to the approach, three appear as 21st century girls – with phones, dancing to modern music. At the same time they are clearly living in the hell of the dying days of the Third Reich. The food they eat is tasteless and bland (Hitler’s tastes) but it is better quality and there is far more of it, than the rest of the population has. They talk of, and adore, the Fuehrer, excited that one day he might visit them. However, as the differing characters emerge, it feels perfectly natural – these are simply young women doing young women things: taking selfies, dancing to the current music, gossiping about boys and film stars… it brings them to our immediate attention in a way that a more historic presentation might not have done. It is all the more chilling for being given the modern setting – a reminder that that passion and commitment to evil is still out there, the unthinking acceptance of authority, that, ‘they wouldn’t lie to us’.
Their day is framed entirely by the waiting for, the arrival, the eating, the timing and waiting for ill effects, the reporting to the guards of their meals. No sooner is one cycle complete than the next begins. They have little idea as to what being poisoned would mean, whether they would die quickly or in unspeakable pain, and wondering about it threads through their gossip and squabbling.
Fear and tension runs through the whole piece for all the fun, the music and the selfies. Not only is the fear of poison there at every meal, but every so often, a girl disappears, to be replaced by another.
The set and effects are simple and striking – a table at which they eat their meals, the thump of overhead footsteps marking the arrival of the next meal accompanied by powerful torches which both blind them to seeing their guards and create the only glimpse beyond their enclosed world.
Both the script and direction are tight and focussed with not a wasted word or move.
The cast are superb. Hallie Griffin as the highly strung Liesel who tried to keep the peace between MaryKathryn Kopp, as an arrogant, self-entitled Hilda whose father is an apparently very senior officer, whose world crumbles as she realises her father may have deserted, and the nervous uncertain Anna (Kaitlin Paige Longoria) who gradually reveals stories of loss. Hannah Sturges joins the group as Margot, the feisty one who asks awkward questions and has to learn there are some things you just don’t say. Together they form an incredibly strong ensemble cast.
Overall, this is a highly original, engaging and striking piece of ensemble work. One that brings to the surface the experience of a little known group of women and in doing so flags up quite a lot of parallels to today’s world…