The End of The Night: 'A compelling and timely history lesson'
- Credit: Mark Douet
The End of the Night
In April 1945, days before Adolf Hitler’s suicide and the Nazi capitulation, a secret meeting took place between Heinrich Himmler and a Swedish Jew called Norbert Masur.
Brokered by the Reichsfuhrer's trusted physiotherapist Dr Felix Kersten – a man Himmler trusted confided in – there was only one item on the agenda: to persuade Himmler to release as many Jews as possible from the death camps.
Ben Brown's The End of The Night at Park Theatre dramatizes a moment when The Reich was in chaos, Nazi leaders were bickering and thinking about their own survival, and Himmler was doubting his loyalty to Hitler.
Played with panache by Richard Clothier, Himmler arrives at Kersten's lodge wearing his SS uniform. He is urbane, fastidiously polite but with an undercurrent of strained menace.
A nervous Masur (an excellent, controlled performance by Ben Caplan) is about to meet the architect of the Final Solution.
Interpreted brilliantly by Michael Lumsden, the confident and relaxed Dr Kersten is a natural salesman, who breaks the ice.
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In their gripping conversations we learn why Himmler was devoted to Hitler, his “rationale” for the extermination of the Jews (they lost Germany the war in 1918, created Bolshevism and seek world domination), how he had proposed deporting them to Madagascar, and that the crematoria ovens were built to deal with Jewish typhus victims.
With echoes of recent pronouncements by Putin apologists ringing in our ears, much of this made for uncomfortable listening.
The conversation is all the more disturbing because of its unreality; Kersten suggests to the media-conscious Himmler that releasing Jews could achieve a PR bonus that would do him no harm post war. The numbers to be freed are arm-wrestled as though dividing a restaurant bill – crumbs of Danish pastries flicked from Himmler's moustache as he tries to bid down Masur.
It's totally compelling, brilliant and restrained theatre.
The End of the Night is at Park Theatre until May 28.