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The End of the Night by Ben Brown at Park Theatre

On Hitler’s birthday in 1945 Heinrich Himmler, Nazi Party Reichsfuehrer of the Schutzstaffel(SS), met with Norbert Masur, a representative of the World Jewish Congress for nearly three hours at the house of the Swede Felix Kersten, about 30 miles north of Berlin – or did he? And if he did, what did they discuss and what was the result?

The End of the Night by Ben Brown
The End of the Night by Ben Brown – Photo by Mark Douet.

That is the premise of this new play by Ben Brown. The informative programme tells us that all this was “rather silly lies”, but Brown takes his well-researched information at face value and lets us eavesdrop on what might have happened.

Tall, slim, moustachioed, almost anaemic, Himmler is acted by Richard Clothier with a quiet firmness, rarely losing his cool and having come prepared with “truths” which he knows are lies, but at this stage of the war is just looking for any way to save his own skin, as long as Hitler does not find out. He comes over as a very complex character but does not have the inner strength of purpose that in reality, he must have had. Clothier gives a well-rounded performance and extracts as much as he can from what he is asked to say.

The meeting has been organised by his physician, Felix Kersten (Michael Lumsden), who is determined to do everything he can to get as many prisoners as possible released from concentration camps before Germany capitulates to the Allies: we hear Russian gunfire in the distance throughout the play. Himmler has long suffered from indigestion problems for which Kersten has been treating him using massage, and one of the strangest scenes is when a massage occurs on stage, showing Himmler to be very vulnerable. Lumsden plays Kersten as someone who knows he is quietly in charge and is very effective.

Masur (Ben Caplan) is a Swedish Jew, surprised to find himself face to face with Himmler and at times not knowing what to do or say – in fact, most of the negotiating is carried out by Kersten, whom Himmler realises he cannot do without and is almost blackmailed into agreeing to the release of 1,000 women.

Kersten’s maid and close friend, Elizabeth Lube, a German, is portrayed with a quiet nobility by Audrey Palmer; what she says and does is often very moving because it is understated. Although very much a secondary role, it appears to have more depth and motivation than the playwright gives the three men.

The structure of the play is unusual, the central confrontation between Himmler, Masur and Kersten lasting an hour and being, at times, quite gripping. However, it is framed by a five-minute prologue spoken to the audience by Masur which not only seems unnecessary, but it is also very undramatic. The playwright uses a similar device at the end: just after the climax of the play, the audience is treated to another monologue by Masur, followed by one spoken by a new character, a concentration camp survivor, Jeanne Bommezjin (Olivia Bernstone). If Ben Brown needed to give us this information, which is debatable, there must be better, more theatrical ways of so doing. A work in progress I feel.

The imaginative set and costume designer was the ever imaginative Michael Pavelka – a shame that his backdrop was only visible for the last few minutes – evocative lighting by Jason Taylor and imaginative sound design Gregory Clark. The director was Alan Strachan.

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

In the final days of World War II, a secret meeting takes place between a member of the World Jewish Congress and one of the most powerful Nazis in Germany – without Hitler’s knowledge.

Dr Felix Kersten, Himmler’s trusted personal physiotherapist, uses his unique position of influence to facilitate a meeting between the architect of The Holocaust and Swedish Jew Norbert Masur. A meeting which could turn Himmler’s thoughts away from the downfall of the Third Reich and towards a course of action that could save thousands of lives.

With battle lines crumbling and lives in the balance, the two men must try to find a way to persuade Himmler to release the last surviving concentration camp prisoners contrary to Hitler’s orders that no Jew should outlast the regime.

OLIVIA BERNSTONE I JEANNE BOMMEZJIN
BEN CAPLAN I NORBERT MASUR
RICHARD CLOTHIER I HEINRICH HIMMLER
MICHAEL LUMSDEN I FELIX KERSTEN
AUDREY PALMER I ELISABETH LUBE

WRITER I BEN BROWN
DIRECTOR I ALAN STRACHAN
SET AND COSTUME DESIGNER I MICHAEL PAVELKA
LIGHTING DESIGNER I JASON TAYLOR
SOUND DESIGNER I GREGORY CLARKE
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR I TOM BRAIN
PRODUCTION MANAGER I TAMMY ROSE
PRODUCERS I DANIEL COOPER & TOM HACKNEY
PRODUCTION CO-ORDINATOR I CHARLOTTE HOLDER
COMPANY STAGE MANAGER I LAUREN BARCLAY
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER I JEFFREY HARMER
STAGE MANAGEMENT INTERN I ALEX JAOUEN

Park Theatre and Original Theatre present the World Premiere of
The End of the Night
By Ben Brown
Directed by Alan Strachan
Plays: 27 Apr – 28 May 2022
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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