1938 Hitler Takes Vienna
Ballast Theatre Comnpany
The Jack Studio Theatre
Jack writer-in-residence Howard Colyer and the venue's artistic director, Kate Bannister, have worked their magic again with 1938 Hitler Takes Vienna.
With this dramatic monologue, Colyer has continued to do what he does so skilfully—to take a noteworthy piece of writing and adapt it freely to create something new which has the essence of the original but is a compelling stage work in its own right.
1938 Hitler Takes Vienna is loosely based on Joseph Roth's The Emperor’s Tomb.
Austrian journalist and novelist Roth, like the hero of the play, had an ambiguous nostalgia for the days of the Austro–Hungarian Empire that collapsed in ignominy and defeat in 1918. Similarly they share a sense of foreboding at the rise of Hitler.
The monologue is written in the voice of Baron Trotta, a relative of the family central to Roth's best known work, an elegy to the Empire, The Radetzky March.
The play opens to reveal Trotta alone in an abandoned Jewish bar in Vienna on the night of 11 March 1938—the day of the Anschluss when Hitler imposed an enforced incorporation of Austria into Nazi Germany and his army walked across the border unopposed.
Trotta helps himself to a bottle from the bar; the breaks to refill his glass subtly punctuate the ensuing narrative that moves back and forth through time to unveil his life story, until dawn arrives and he leaves the bar through the back to the sound of Hitler's Brownshirts, "thugs that look like lavatory attendants", breaking in.
Trotta, now in his fifties, considers his future as he remembers the turning points in his past. Just as there are parallels between the present crumbling of Austria and the collapse of his world in 1918, it is impossible not to also see parallels between The Emperor’s Tomb, 1938 and Roth's own life, making it all the more poignant.
Roth's wife was consigned to an asylum, he died alone, an impoverished alcoholic, in a Paris bar in 1939, knowing that his anti–Nationalist writings will have brought him to the attention of the Nazis.
Trotta returns from the 1914–18 war to find his wife openly shacked up with an avant garde lesbian artist, his family wealth dispersed. As the play closes, he is alone—his mother dead and his son sent out of harm's way, knowing that his outspokenness will have put him at risk from the Nazis.
If director Kate Bannister were to direct David Bromley reading the telephone directory, I would be the first in line for a ticket.
The talented Mr Bromley is wonderful as Trotta. As Trotta imitating other characters in his life, he is equally engaging. His assured delivery is a joy to watch and he and Bannister provide a tension to the piece that makes it quite spellbinding.
Bannister's staging belies the play's lack of action and Philip Matejtschuk's (sound designer) snippets of music underline a point or evoke a period or atmosphere beautifully. The image of Trotta creating a pathetic barricade of chairs against the Nazi soldiers to the Viennese signature tune "The Blue Danube" will stay with me for a long time.
1938 Hitler Takes Vienna plays the Jack Studio Theatre until 5 September. It is presented by Ballast Theatre; suitable for 12+.
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti