The End of the Night - Original Theatre Online Review
In the dying days of World War II, a meeting takes place between two men who were unlikely to ever cross paths, Norbert Masur, a representative of the World Jewish Congress and Heinrich Himmler, a prominent Nazi. ‘The End of the Night’ by Ben Brown and directed by Alan Scrachan tells the tale of this meeting, how Himmler’s trusted physiotherapist Felix Kersten made it all happen, and how it saved thousands of lives.
Masur (played by Ben Caplan) believes that, with Hitler in hiding, orchestrating the release of thousands of imprisoned Jews could help Himmler (played by Richard Clothier) as the war draws to a close and is willing to attend the risky meeting in order to convince Himmler to change course and save thousands of lives.
Filmed live at the Park Theatre for Original Theatre Online, this 80-minute production brings the story to life in a compelling manner. Although the show centres around the meeting of Masur and Himmler, the bulk of the story is actually told by Himmler and Felix Kersten (Michael Lumsden). As Kersten treats Himmler, the level of trust between the two men becomes clear as Himmler opens up and explains his choices and reasonings behind the decisions he has been involved in making. When talking to Caplan’s Masur, there is a feeling that the Nazi character is simply making up excuses, telling him what he wants to hear but perhaps not meaning it, suggesting that imprisonment and murder of Jewish people was not his idea. But when with Kersten, the truth comes out, the worries of a man run ragged by war and politics, torn between difficult decisions and compelled to please all parties as the viewer is shown a variety of perspectives on the events.
There is a sense of teamwork between Masur and Kersten, with Masur speaking from the experience of losing people and trying to understand why the Nazi’s have treated the Jewish people with such hatred, and Kersten using his unique bond with Himmler to not only set up the meeting in the first place but to also dig deeper into the workings of the man. Both know that the war is near to ending, and both must find a way to convince Himmler to release the surviving prisoners, even if it means he must break away from Hitler’s warnings.
The performances throughout are convincing and intriguing, with close ups used frequently, allowing the audiences to almost see every thought and decision rattling around the men’s minds. Much attention is paid to Himmler’s uniform, painting him as a serious man who never lets his guard down, a monster who takes pleasure in the suffering of others. It is when the uniform is removed in order for him to receive physiotherapy treatment that the walls come down around him and he speaks from the heart, suggesting that his uniform is his armour, his war paint, and the way that Hitler wants the Nazi’s to be portrayed to the world. The story is told at a steady pace, keeping a sense of tension going throughout as Himmler goes back and forth both between Kersten and Masur and between his decision making. At times, when watching through a computer screen, it’s a little bit dark in places, with the performers surrounded by shadow but I suppose that this may be on purpose in order to set the overall tone of the piece of this fly on the wall drama.
Audrey Palmer and Olivia Bernstone play small but important parts, with Palmer as Kersten’s housekeeper Elizabeth who wants to ensure that she can get safe passage and stay with Kersten and Bernstone portraying a Jewish women freed from a concentration camp telling the story of those who were lucky enough to be rescued by the Red Cross.
Overall, ‘The End of the Night’ is a history lesson in drama form, bringing an important but very unknown moment of World War history to life in a highly captivating and educational way. Many know of the horrors committed to Jews during the war, but many may be unaware of what was done to try to help them, and what happened in those final days of the War, and this production takes those unknown moments and sheds a light on them.
Tickets to watch 'The End of the Night' can be purchased here https://originaltheatreonline.com