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Hitler Alone
Published on Friday, 27 May 2011

3 stars

The Old Courtroom (venue website)
26-28 May, 4:30pm-5:30pm; 29 May, 5:30pm-6:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.

Would you like to spend an hour in Hitler's Berlin bunker?  Probably not, but it's a darkly compelling idea.  In this rambling, half-mad monologue, Paul Webster - as Hitler - dots back and forth through the story of his life, characterised as the Führer sees it by struggle and betrayal.  We learn about his belief-shaping experiences in the Great War trenches, the failed Munich putsch and, ultimately, his terrible rise to power - all seen, of course, through the twisted prism of vicious Nazi ideals.

The effect is sometimes a little too like a History Channel documentary, but there's no denying the impact when Webster re-enacts Hitler's notorious oratory.  Arms clutching his chest, fingers stabbing the air, it's a 60-year-old film brought shockingly to life.  And then, moments later, he's literally on his knees, ranting over the ruin of his plans and (as he would put it) the spineless generals who've abandoned him in the last days of his treasured Reich.

It's a daring piece to put on.  But I'm not quite sure what it was aiming to achieve; I'd expected to feel more challenged by it all.  With the exception of those bombastic interludes, Hitler is portrayed as a broken man at the end of his life, with little to trigger the queasy pangs of revulsion or fear.  Perhaps the aim is to invite sympathy, then whip aside the curtain and reveal just who we've been siding with; but it's hard to pull that kind of stunt when the curtain has a swastika on.

Maybe my muted reaction stems from the script's side-step round the Holocaust.  It's important to make clear that the play never denies Hitler's responsibility, nor does it shy from his anti-Semitism, but his self-justifying monologue still barely touches on the greatest crime of all.  I don't suppose Hitler would have mentioned it either, but this is theatre not life; it's odd to neglect his most defining sin.  Whatever the true reason for writing it that way, it feels like an abdication, as though they didn't know how to handle it so simply moved on.

I'm left with a sickening unease that I've missed the point entirely.  There's another well-known Hitler monologue which includes an audience discussion afterwards, and maybe that's what's needed to make a meaningful experience of something so taboo.  But however you react, it's a highly-focussed and very professional act - and a thorough lesson in the often-neglected details of history.  It's a real shame I didn't find it anything more.

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