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The End of the Night

Ben Brown
Park Theatre and Original Theatre
Park 200

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Richard Clothier as Heinrich Himmler Credit: Mark Douet
Ben Caplan as Norbert Masur and Michael Lumsden as Felix Kersten Credit: Mark Douet
Ben Caplan as Norbert Masur, Audrey Palmer as Elisabeth Lube and Michael Lumsden as Felix Kersten Credit: Mark Douet

Ben Brown’s play The End of the Night imagines what might have taken place during a secret meeting in 1945 outside Berlin between Himmler, the German Reichsfuhrer of the SS, and Norbert Masur (Ben Caplan), a representative of the World Jewish Congress. They were to discuss the possibility of some of the surviving Jewish prisoners being given safe passage to another country. The meeting had been arranged by Felix Kersten (Michael Lumsden), the personal physical therapist to Himmler.

Although this event is a potentially gripping, if disturbing subject for a documentary drama, this play is cautious in its depiction of what happened, predictable in its storyline, lacks character complexity and, apart from a brief incident, has no dramatic tension.

The performance opens with the grim-faced Masur setting the scene. His expression never changes. It is as if he comes to the meeting with the weight of the dead on his shoulders. Initially reluctant to respond to Himmler, he is soon arguing against the SS officer’s fantastical claims about the supposed crimes of the Jewish people.

The negotiations are almost entirely left to the ever-sociable charm of Kersten, who provides refreshments and gives Himmler (Richard Clothier) a massage to deal with his stomach pains. Earlier in the evening, as Kersten and Masur await the arrival of Himmler, he entertains Masur with a radio broadcast of Goebbels celebrating Hitler's birthday.

The mass murderer Himmler is allowed to seem occasionally charming, despite his tendency to explain the problem “between our two people”.

The dialogue is naturalistic and the plot has a basic believability, but the ninety-minute performance doesn't really tell us anything more about the characters or their situations than we get from the advertised summary of the play. Rather than a dramatic engagement with a shocking period in our history, this feels like a slight scene from a conventional costume drama.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna