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Adolf

Written and performed by Pip Utton
Riverside Studios
(2009)

Production photo

Pip Utton's play has been around with occasional updating for nearly a decade and is now presented as part of the repertoire of successful Guy Masterson productions in his Best of the Fest season at Riverside.

Utton's Adolf Hitler is no caricature of the strutting, guttural demagogue of the party rallies and the public speeches. He presents us with a pleasant reasonableness that hints at the personal charm that some claim he had in private, though every now and then, as he becomes more emphatic, the fanatic begins to show if you have not been carried along by his argument - and the point of this show is to demonstrate just how easy it is to be caught up by the ideology that he presents.

We are in the Führer's bunker in those last days of the Third Reich in 1945 and Hitler accepts that this is the end for him. He is speaking, at first, to an inner cadre whom he insists must break out and keep the flame of his ideology burning: another take on 'the future belongs to you'.
In effect he is giving us a master class in how to be a leader, how to achieve and exercise power. It is a frank and frightening presentation of real-politick. Give people an enemy to hate and you can bond them; keep them fed and housed and they won't worry about what else you are doing; sign every treaty - promises are for convenience not for keeping. Why should the good people have their lives spoiled by the bad ones? Why should the pure be tarnished by the impure and corrupt: the Jews, the blacks, the gypsies and the homosexuals?

Of course an enlightened modern British audience is not going to go along with that! But Hitler moves on to announce his marriage to Eva Braun and to thank his personal staff for their support: his pilot, his secretaries, his valet, reminds them of what they have achieved, assures them it has been worthwhile. It all sounds so plausible as though he is making sense again. Everyman should have his bit of land, plot to grow things, roads, railways, fine buildings, a world cleansed of want (and that scum of Jews, blacks, communists, gypsies and homosexuals of course), a better and greater Germany that offered so much to the world. Even as he offers cyanide to those who do not want to leave it sounds so plausible (except that some of us are Jews, blacks, communists, gypsies and homosexuals - and though now he says that both workers and intellectuals are needed wasn't he just saying that he exterminated the intellectuals in Poland lest they interfere with his control of Polish workers?)

The lights go down, the actor returns and the audience begins to applaud but he stops us, he wants to thank the technical crew: give them a round, asks us to raise our right hands and clap with that arm in the air. Some of the audience find themselves giving the fascist salute: it is all so easy. He takes off his jacket with its swastika armband, a costume passed on by Prince Harry he says - another for whom these symbols no longer carry their horrific resonance, bums a cigarette, finds himself a beer and settles into a one-way conversation about things now. Terrorists, Iraq, what's happened in Britain; it's all so plausible. He's right, of course; he's got a point - Hey! Haven't we heard all this before! And we are still hearing it, and not just in this theatre. By showing us how easy it is to be led, how easily our so called leaders have called the tune, he demonstrates the need for vigilance and personal action if Hitler's successors are to be prevented from succeeding.

This is the first time I have seen this show so I don't know how Guy Masterson's production differs from earlier versions but this one is uncannily insidious in the way it seduces the susceptible and frightening to those whose political lives began with fighting fascism. It is a history lesson that is still not learned and today its message is as sorely needed as when Pip Utton first performed it.

At Riverside Studios until 1st February 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton