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Review: THE END OF THE NIGHT, Park Theatre

Dramatisation of secret meeting at the end of World War II fails to build the tension it needs

Review: THE END OF THE NIGHT, Park Theatre Review: THE END OF THE NIGHT, Park Theatre World War II is in its final days, Hitler's downfall certain, the Russians at the gates. Jews (and others) are still being murdered in the death camps, but could some be saved in return for, well, what? Based on true events, Ben Brown's play takes us to a clandestine meeting between Norbert Masur of the World Jewish Congress and Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, the event brokered by the SS man's physiotherapist, Felix Kersten.

If that feels like Michael Frayn / Alan Bennett / David Hare territory, it's because it is, the potential for knuckle-gnawing tension, for an examination of how murderous regimes end and for how antisemitism insidiously manifests itself, being all too clear. But writer, Ben Brown, never resolves the play's structural problems successfully. We know Himmler is evil, his 'stab in the back' rationale for the Nazi ideology merely a cover for vicious fascism, Goebbels' big lies falling shamelessly from his lips . We also know Masur has nothing to offer (more surprising no fake offer that would buy time and be easily rescinded if necessary by blaming the Russians).

This makes for a tricky brief for the actors. Ben Caplan plays Masur suspicious but pragmatic (which we knew he had to be else why would he be meeting HImmler?). Michael Lumsden is all bonhomie and gentle persuasion as Kersten, showing how the doctor would be an oasis of discretion, an escape from the vipers' pit of the Nazi High Command. Despite the fact that even the most monstrous of men can be charming in their personal lives, Richard Clothier is perhaps too handsome, too charismatic, too reasonable in his depiction of Himmler. Subjective as such judgments must be, I felt there was rather too much of the velvet glove and not enough of the iron fist on show.

This material probably does have an excellent play somewhere within it, but this one needs more personal jeopardy, more nuanced character development and more pace to offset the rather static environment and torrent of words. There's but one moment when the tension palpably rises, but director, Alan Strachan, dissipates it almost as soon as he introduces it - Chekhov would not approve.

The End of the Night is at Park Theatre until 28 May

Photo Mark Douet

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