This gripping play focuses on the persecution of the family of Hans Litten, who dared in 1931 to prosecute Hitler .
The play, which transferred to the Haymarket from Chichester starts in 1933 on the night of the burning of the Reichstag, when many political prisoners were picked up - among them Litten.
The story though is mainly viewed through the eyes of Litten’s mother, Irmgard, brilliantly played by Penelope Wilton. The different layers of a mother’s suffering are laid bare, as she interfaces with husband, English lord and perhaps most grippingly the SS officer.
The story of what is actually happening to Hans Litten operates as a virtual sub-plot in the background played with some black humour.There is, though, a striking moment, that will resonate, when the trial is recalled, with Litten's accusation against Hitler who he charges with running the murderous SA thugs. 'In your quest for respectability I think we can say you have been talking out of both corners of your mouth. One corner talks to your rich backers, the other to your street-fighters."
Brilliantly directed by Jonathan Church, this Mark Hayhurst play brings out the brutality and hatred of the Nazis. Hitler’s well known thirst for revenge against anyone who crossed him let alone prosecuted him in court.
Wilton’s virtuoso performance brings out the different layers of suffering of a mother campaigning to win her son’s freedom. She seems to be continually let down by a variety of men from her husband Fritz to the hapless Lord Clifford Allen who comes over from England to plea for her son with Hitler. All to little effect.
Perhaps the most gripping scenes are between Irmgard Litten and SS officer Dr Conrad, brilliantly played by John Light. Dr Conrad is seen for the most part as the calculating Nazi officer playing with his powerless victim but then in a great piece of direction he suddenly appears in civies, buying Irmgard an ice cream and showing a more human side. The brutal side though quickly returns.
One of the potential weaknesses of the play is the resemblance of the Irmgard Litten character, as played by Wilton, to the other woman she so famously portrays in the ITV serial Downton Abbey, Mrs Crawley. The forthright reflections of Irmgard Litten given in a brusque English accent have more than a passing resemblance to the Crawley character. Wilton’s Irmgard character is, for instance, in marked contrast to say to how husband Fritz is played by Alan Corduner – there is no mistaking him as a German.
The play though offers a different take on the story to that of Hayhurst's TV offering, The Man Who Crossed Hitler (2011), which also told the story of Hans Litten. There is the focus on the mother and more gallows humour in the stage version, whilst never losing the essential bravery of the whole Litten family in forlornly battling for justice against the Nazis.
* Taken at Midnight is on at the Haymarket, London - runs until 14 March