Taking Sides

Ronald Harwood
Jenny King and Matthew Gale for The Touring Consortium at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham

It's often said nowadays that the best theatre in the country is to be found in the provinces. Critics who bemoan the current state of the industry, particularly in the West End, need to get out more and see for themselves the wealth of talent that's on view outside London.

Take the Touring Consortium, for instance. For the past eight years Jenny King and theatres in Blackpool, Canterbury, Cardiff, Darlington, Nottingham and latterly Birmingham have put on only one drama a year - yet the quality is exceptional. It's well worth making the effort to see their offerings even if they don't come anywhere near your home town.

Twelve months ago I had my first experience of the company, a spectacular version of Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge. This year's production is just as memorable.

Taking Sides looks at the life of Willhelm Furtwangler, possibly the most brilliant orchestral conductor of his generation. He lead the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra throughout the Nazi era. He lived for his music but was branded a collaborator.

Written by Ronald Harwood, who also penned the Oscar-winning film The Pianist, the play leads up to the interrogation of Furtwangler by Steve Arnold, an American Major working for the denazification tribunal in post-war Germany.

Neil Pearson, who is said to have jumped at the chance to play Major Arnold, is excellent as the interrogator, probing, searching, examining the evidence before him, using anger, superiority and even sarcasm to try to get to the truth.

Julian Glover is just as impressive as Furtwangler. He is careworn, vulnerable and downtrodden, seemingly battered into submission after his decision not to be forced out of Germany by a regime which he believed would be temporary.

But he is stronger than he initially appears and presents a credible argument as to whether art, music and culture can ever be divorced from politics.

There are also strong performances from Tom Harper (Lieutenant David Wills) who berates Major Arnold for not showing Furtwangler more respect; Ruth Grey who is totally in character as secretary Emmi Straube even though she doesn't have a huge number of lines; John McEnery (Helmuth Rode) as the second violinist who hasn't got the intelligence nor talent to take his career further; and Tanya Ronder (Tamara Sachs), the distraught wife whose pianist husband has "disappeared".

Credit too to dialect coach Charmian Hoare for authentic accents which never slip.

Director Deborah Bruce has assembled a tremendous cast who produce the correct amount of tension for a stunning evening's entertainment. It might not be to everyone's taste - but it's gripping stuff throughout.

"Taking Sides" tours until December 6th

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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