Momentous events can often be difficult to comprehend when looked at on the large scale, and often the best way to view a huge event in history is to listen to a single person, a sort of Mr Everyman, to see how they saw what was happening. This then is the premise of Howard Colyer’s play “1938 Hitler Takes Vienna” at the Brockley Jack Studio.
In a bar a man sits and drinks. The bar is deserted, the lights off and the shutters pulled down as the elderly gentleman helps himself to another drink. The gentleman is called Baron Trotta (David Bromley) and he is the last person in the bar as everyone else has fled into the night. The reason for their sudden decision to leave? Tonight is the 11th March 1938 and this bar sits in the centre of Vienna, capital city of Austria which is, even now welcoming the ‘invading’ hoardes of Nazi’s led by another Austrian, Adolf Hitler. The bar’s owner and all of the staff are Jewish – as is Baron Trotta – and are fully aware of the actions taken by the Nazi party against Jews since their rise to power in Germany in 1933. Baron Trotta is not leaving though. Instead, he sits and reminisces about his life from his childhood in a small village called Sipolje in Slovenia where his family were something of note in the scheme of things (his grandfather’s brother had saved the life of the Emperor once) through to his unfortunate marriage and then the Great War. All the time, his mind is going backwards, reliving the past and forward, thinking of what tomorrow will bring as Vienna and Austria disappear into the greater Nazi empire. As the night wears on, noises of vehicles can be heard in the street outside the bar. The Germans are getting closer and Baron Trotta must at some point move on and face the new order on its own terms.
A very powerful play, “1938 Hitler Takes Vienna” is a wonderful monologue telling of one man’s life as he grew up in the shades of a disintegrating empire, lived through the most horrific war in history and prepared to face a future where his life could probably be measured in days rather than years. The Baron, described in the script as ‘evidently a gentleman but not wealthy’ is portrayed with consummate skill by David Bromley who brings him to life perfectly. In the way of many people reminiscing about their lives, David’s Baron alternates between wild enthusiasm and care-worn acceptance of fate. Whilst you get the feeling he has had an eventful life, there is no real idea that with the benefit of hindsight the Baron regrets much and, I have to say, I could have sat in a bar all day buying him Schnapps and listening to his tales. Writer Howard Colyer has some lovely moments in the script – the portion about the effect of WWI on the Baron’s wife’s preferences was really superb – and there are moments of genuine humour in the story, all the time underpinned by the thought of what is happening on the other side of the shuttered windows.
Director Kate Bannister has made full use of the Brockley’s stage area – with a set designed by Karl Swinyard that looks highly appropriate to the time and place – and keeps the monologue moving at a lively pace as the Baron’s thoughts drift from the past to the present and the future. The Baron was just a lovely old man, who whilst having the cynicism that comes with experience, was never going to be a threat to anyone. By the end of the performance, I really wanted Baron Trotta to escape the fate that we, the audience, knew was about to befall him.
As I said at the start, the best way to really understand world events is to talk to individuals involved or affected by them. Sadly in the case of the Third Reich this is becoming more difficult to do but “1938 Hitler Takes Vienna” gives us an opportunity to at least have a glimpse of that fateful night when the world changed forever. A compelling and mesmerizing show that kept me gripped throughout.
Review by Terry Eastham
Hitler Takes Vienna
by Howard Colyer
Directed by Kate Bannister. Performed by David Bromley.
Late in the evening on 11 March, 1938, a man sits in a Jewish bar in Vienna as the German army invades Austria. The other guests flee – as does the owner – but he remains to contemplate his past and his future: bleak though that may be.
After five years of ranting Hitler has crossed over.
He’s returned home. He’s returned to his native land.
Hitler the Austrian – the German leader – is marching home with a grey, grim army.
Is this the start of a new war?
1938 is a dramatic monologue freely adapted from Joseph Roth’s The Emperor’s Tomb. The play opens on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War.
1st to 5th September 2015
The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre