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Hannah and Martin

Kate Fodor
Nefeli Productions in association with The Courtyard Theatre
The Courtyard Theatre
(2008)

Hannah & Martin is the British premiere of an acclaimed Off-Broadway play, which tells the story of political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) & her professor, the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).

Based on their correspondence and real life events, it was the first play by journalist Kate Fodor and has all the ingredients that make it a perfect theatrical experience - intellectually stimulating, fine writing and compelling performances.

We begin sometime during the Nuremberg Trials, Miss Arendt has arrived in Germany, to write for The New Yorker on the trail of Baldur Von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth Movement. She's also penning a letter recanting her previous condemnation of her teacher, Heidegger, who joined the Nazi party during the war, and her student Alice (Sarah Savage) refuses to type it for her. She warns her teacher, that if she writes it "you will have blood on your hands".

The action moves into flashback to the 1920s, Hannah (Vivienne Rowdon) is a 20 something student, who arrives wet and bedraggled to keep an appointment with Heidegger (Greg Patmore) who has corrected her essay on Saint Augustine. She's, late, breathless and nervous: he's handsome, composed and brilliant: "Pour yourself a cup of tea and hang your coat up," he orders, and a sparky conversation kick starts an intellectual and emotional relationship.

"You have taken up residence in my brain," he writes to her and promises, "I will teach you to think and you will rescue me."

This is not some jaded professor having an affair with a first-year student, but two intellectual soul mates that spark each other's curiosity and the two leads have a great chemistry.

Intercut with their burgeoning relationship are scenes of the Von Schirarch (Tim Charrington) trail, who claims "I was only a teacher," but refuses to accept that he was providing boys to be used as SS fodder.

The first act focuses mostly on their personal relationship; his home life with his Teutonic wife, Elfride (Stacy Thunes), who flirts with Nazism, and, in this play, seems to be the instigator for her husband's later sympathy for the party. There is a funny domestic scene where a great philosopher has to follow his wife's lead in how to be nice to the children. As he confesses to Hannah, "It is obvious, I am unused to household chores."

As he grows in stature, he sends her away to be tutored by his mentor Karl Jaspers (Charrington in double role). She suffers pangs of separation ("I was in physical pain") and he orders her not to drown her sorrows by "drinking beer". She marries, they meet again, they argue about ideas, they part.

The second act is when Hannah is now a big name in America. She's come to meet the Jaspers, and discovers that Heidegger refused to help him as he had a Jewish wife.

She goes to confront Heidegger who is now living in obscurity and is a sick man. In that scene of reckoning, against the background of a scratching recording from Wagner's The Ring Cycle, she tries to understand, how she could have loved a man, who espoused Nazi thought:

"I believed in Hitler, he wanted to preserve aspects of German life which made it life," he tells her, but puts "the Jewish question to one side."

"I believed in you," she replies, and we return to the confrontation at the beginning of the play, where her student, is refusing to type her letter and demanding an explanation for her actions. The students will suffer. She replies,"It is something that has to be done."

Hannah & Martin is a play about human relationships, big ideas, philosophy and politics. Considering that the British are obsessed with World War II, I am amazed that no one in Britain has thought about producing this before. Congratulations to the Courtyard Theatre for bringing it to the attention of the British public. I really enjoyed it.

Until 22nd June

Reviewer: Suman Bhuchar