- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Timothy Bano
“History is about dead people” says Missie (Marie Findlay), a secretary in the German Foreign Ministry. She is talking to Adam von Trott, the subject of this play, after a plot to assassinate Hitler has failed. She is not entirely correct, however, because this play, while entirely historical, is very much connected to the living. It is alive.
Von Trott was an important figure in the Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler, made famous in the film Valkyrie. He was a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, which is part of the reason why playwright Bernard Adams suggested that the play should be premiered by Oxford students. Lucie Dawkins the director has been in frequent contact with Adams, and von Trott’s wife Clarita to ensure that this production is a faithful and dramatic account of living history. There are several elements that tie the production to its historical past: traverse staging allows the actors to move more naturally around the rooms in the intimate, often one-on-one scenes; real footage of von Trott, of Hitler and others is projected onto the walls. And, oddly, Andrew Sachs is providing voiceover material (just don’t mention the war…).
Some of the acting is over the top, some a little underdone; a particular standout is David Shields as Stauffenberg, not only because he can manipulate a briefcase buckle with three fingers on one hand and none on the other, but also because of his ability to make us listen. He talks of some of the shocking realities of the war, of prisoners starving, dying: these are harrowing accounts and he harrows. He is sad, calm, silent. He lets the facts speak for themselves. Chris Williams as von Trott has a difficult role: he is a fierce patriot, but completely opposed to Nazism; eventually he must face the repercussions of his involvement. Williams is versatile and meets the challenges well. And Frederick Bowerman, who plays Anthony Eden, has a great voice and appropriately superior manner.
There seems to be a reluctance to discard anything of interest and at times this cuts the pace. But when this play is good, it is very good. And, towards the end, scenes begin to merge, times overlap and tension is high – which is an impressive thing to achieve in telling a story to which we already know the ending.
What have we not heard before? There are over 44,000 results from typing “World War 2” into SOLO. And still our capacity to reel, to fear, to be shocked and upset by these events wanes little. The play relies so much on reality – real people, real plot, real script and props – but in the acting and in the script it feels like something is being held back. They need not be afraid of frightening us. Perhaps this is not the focus: the story of von Trott is, as he says in the play, a piece in a jigsaw, one story of the uncountable and unaccounted that together form history’s narrative. This piece does not overtly seek to challenge or unsettle us. But the reality of what we are seeing – the fact that it is history – is endlessly interesting and for this reason alone the play should really not be missed.
Four stars ****