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Taken at Midnight (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Taken at Midnight

Society: Bromley Little Theatre

Venue: Bromley Little Theatre (Main Auditorium). North Street, Bromley, Kent BR1 1SB

Credits: By Mark Hayhurst

Taken at Midnight

3 stars

I don’t suppose that when Bromley Little Theatre programmed this play – probably months ago – that anyone had any idea that by the time it was staged, history would,  hideously and chillingly, be repeating itself. It is hard to watch Mark Hayhurst’s play about Hitler’s orchestrated atrocities in the 1930s other than through a lens of the tyranny the world is currently facing. In other words Taken at Midnight is arrestingly topical.

First staged at Chichester in 2014 with a transfer to the west End, Taken at Midnight tells the true story of a young German lawyer named Hans Litten. He is arrested because he has defiantly defended communist workers against fabricated charges of violence. In one such case, in 1931, he subpoenaed Hitler and ridiculed him in court and there is a strong sense of personal revenge being enacted. The story is told through the eyes of his mother, Irmgard Litten.

Robert O’Neill’s performance as Litten is excellent. Having just been arrested he is initially strained but determined. He becomes ever more distressed – both physically and mentally – as he is transferred from concentration camp to camp and relentlessly beaten and tortured.  It’s hard to watch. Then finally we get a powerful reprise of the court scene back in 1931 as, still in “striped pyjamas” we see his verbal brilliance, panache and courage.

Heather Wain as Irmgard never feels quite real although I saw this play on its opening night (no previews in non-pro theatre) so nerves were probably biting. She speaks, moves and gestures over carefully – you can almost see and hear Pauline Armour’s directorial notes. Of course her character is under huge strain but we also need to be convinced by her. She seems slightly more natural  and less wooden in the second half and there’s a powerful scene with her son towards the end when, finally, I believed in her.

Strong support roles include  Geoff Dillon as the cocky, intelligent Erich Muhsam, a communist imprisoned with Litten who has, eventually, more integrity than instinct for self preservation.  Michael Martin as Carl von Ossietsky, a newspaper editor and another fellow prisoner, finds intelligence and truth in his character and I liked Howie Ripley’s work as Gustav who helps Litten sort some library books – really nice rapport between the two actors in this scene. This is, incidentally, a good play for an amateur company because there are a number of smallish but meaty roles which can be rehearsed in discrete scenes.

Armour makes good use of Bromley Little Theatre’s small playing space which is more or less split into two (set design by Jan Greenhough) with the relatively comfortable outside world occupied by Irmgard and the people she talks to stage right, while stage left represents the squalid horror of a series of prisons.

The story telling is pretty clear although I was puzzled by Fritz Litten (Michael Martin – charismatic), father of Hans Litten. He comes and goes, apparently not living with Irmgard. Are they separated? Is he dead? He’s fully Jewish, although he has converted – which is why they declare Hans Litten Jewish despite his professed atheism. Why is Litten senior, a university professor, not arrested too?

It is an inspired, sobering idea to have archive footage of the real Irmgard, who escaped to Britain, talking to a British journalist in the foyer at the end of the play.

First published by Sardines: https://www.sardinesmagazine.co.uk/review/taken-at-midnight-4/

Author information
Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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