Brighton Fringe 2011
A one man show, written and performed by the seasoned actor Paul Webster, who has had a long career spanning 60 years, many of those as a Shakespearean actor.
The premise of the piece has Hitler alone in his bunker, just hours before he will commit suicide via poison pill and pistol shot, musing and ranting on his whole life before the audience. The 1000 year Reich has failed and now the defeated Hitler must take stock. A few props: a chair, a small table with a photo of Hitler’s ‘only friend’ and the found everywhere red and black Nazi flag hangs chillingly on the wall behind.
The research that Paul Webster must have done for this piece is quite astounding. As one listens to the 70 minute monologue one cannot help but be impressed by the in depth research that Webster has obviously brought to his work. We are invited into this historical research as the closest we can get to Hitler’s personal thoughts. We move without any particular structure through Hitler’s opinions, his likes and dislikes – his love of Clark Gable, his appreciation of the English, his disappointment and hatred for the generals that have now deserted him, his feelings towards his many enemies (“I have always wanted my enemy to hate me, so I could hate, hate, hate him in return”). We are invited into Hitler’s love life via his reminiscences of Eva Braun, his mistress, whom we learn always wanted to marry him but Hitler always declined as he was never “family man material”. When juxtaposed with the more angry, ranting parts of the piece these moments are all the more disturbing.
Juxtaposition, rather than dramatic structure, is the main form giving device and this is not entirely successful. Indeed by the end of he piece it was quite wearisome. For we move by turns from Hitler falling to his knees like a possessed madman, shaking his fists and cursing in a frightening fashion, to Hitler extolling the virtues of Wagner and other bourgeois trivialities and then back again like a pendulum. There were times during his trivial moments where he seemed quintessentially English in demeanour and cadence of the voice, but perhaps this was intentional given Hitler’s adoration of the English gentleman. The whole piece, it must be said, was executed without a German accent, apart from a few passages spoken in German. The few moment that were spoken in the German language ‘mother tongue’ seemed to eclipse and dampen the far greater part spoken in English. It could have been more successful with a German accent. Perhaps also it would have been more successful in a smaller venue. The Old Courthouse was only a quarter full and I wonder if the tiered seating diluted the effect and made it seem more like a spectacle rather than a confession. How much more to communicate by being on the same level as the audience, the audience on the same level as Hitler.
Webster however, it must be said, has chosen a very difficult subject to explore and one that must leave the theatregoer with very high expectations. Hitler as madman and the embodiment of pure evil is where history and popular imagination has shelved him. If you were to imagine a conversation with Hitler in his last hour, could you? Could you successfully bring this to life in your imagination? Are evil deeds necessarily the deeds of an evil person? Or does evil reside in the deepest, darkest unseen parts of ourselves?
A noble effort which shows some real brilliance and panache but left this reviewer with many unanswered questions.