As usual with Lighted Fools, when you enter the Theatre, the set shows signs of loving attention to detail, whetting the appetite and sparking that pre-theatre buzz that makes it so addictive. And as usual with Lighted Fools, the expectant theatre-addict was not disappointed.
The set, designed by David Hemsley-Brown (of whom more anon) was divided left and right between what was obviously a bare-concrete prison cell, and a bureaucrat’s office dominated by a nazi flag.
As a reviewer of amateur theatrics one feels constrained always to ‘be nice’, to concentrate on the good stuff, even to the extent of fudging and blurring on occasion. Well, why don’t I break that tradition and list what was not perfect about Lighted Fools’ “Taken at Midnight”. Let’s see. Well, for one thing, the nazi flag was not an original. And, oh dear, I think one pair of spectacles may not have been from the ‘30s. The guard might, I suppose, have kicked the prisoner more vigorously.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it plain that I was employing heavy irony there. In truth I sincerely think this show was a fine demonstration that you don’t have to go to London and spend hundreds to see top-class drama. From the very first second, when the darkness was sliced by a razor of light as the cell door opened, I was entranced. Through that sliver of light, a hapless man was thrown by a brute of a guard (Ben Howarth, excellent physical presence). Only later did we see that the cell was already occupied by two others, who, to judge by their beards, had been there some time. These were David Hemsley-Brown playing the anarcho-communist poet Erich Muhsam, and Paul Halliwell as the nobel-laureate Carl Von Ossietsky, both in prison for being cheerful, peace-loving good guys. The newcomer was Hans Litten (Nick Lund, first-class), thrown in after them for making Hitler look foolish in a law court.
Symbolically and literally placed between the cell and the office was Litten’s mother, played with fiery-eyed charisma by Alison Brooks, at first in her own spotlight, and then in the nazi office, where she met Dr. Conrad (Graham Collier), an officer whose handsomely pedantic politeness belied his chilling uniform. These two began a relationship which gradually developed as she, at first contemptuous, later seeming to thaw, but resolute throughout, began to campaign for her son’s release. They met several times, and one began to wonder ‘will they, won’t they’, because he was so very charming, sweetly and naively explaining that her son was not in prison but in ‘protective custody’. You felt sure that her heroic beauty would win him over. Here is the perfect place to avoid a plot-spoiler.
The cast was rounded off by Derek Watts and Steve Alais, as Fritz Litten and Lord Allen, and between the eight of them they made a really excellent job of delivering the script, written on commission by Mark Hayhurst, no stranger to the subject, having written it for TV on at least two previous occasions.
It was beautifully balanced and paced, intriguing, beguiling and heartbreaking. The high point of the evening belongs to Mr Hemsley-Brown, thoroughly believable as he approached his last breath taunting and goading his executioner. Or perhaps it goes to the technical crew who managed perfect synchronisation of sound and light in the torture scene. Or perhaps it goes to makeup, for transforming our hero from a suited and sanguine lawyer into a gaunt and spectral Dachau inmate. Or maybe to Mr. Lund who conveyed his unseen tortures so well through body language alone. All examples of theatre of the first order.
I regret beginning to pick out ‘high points’ and would almost go back and erase what I said above, except that they truly deserved mention. There were many, many other points equally deserving, but it would be tedious to try and list them all.
Heartfelt congratulations and thanks to Director Richard Parish and the whole crew for a wonderful evening.