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A CurtainUp Review

By James Walters

It would seem that if an individual wishes to spend an evening deconstructing the Second World War, then Londonís theatre is currently the place to do it. With plays such as Good at the Donmar and Copenhagen at the Duchess the valuable lessons history has to teach us about war and its consequences are being taught with absorbing clarity on Londonís stages. Now more so than ever, with the current escalating political crisis in the Balkans, it is enlightening to see that, ultimately, things have not changed so very much in the last fifty years.

Good is centred around the life and work of Professor Halder (Charles Dance), whose intellectual studies into Goethe, but more importantly his authorship of a pro-euthanasia novel, brings him to the attention of Hitlerís Nazi party. The play depicts the life of a man who is drawn into the evils of Hitlerís regime not through any evil or barbaric tendencies, but as a route to advancing his career and social standing.

Halderís acceptance of the ways of the German Nationalists lead him to reject his wife and children, his closest friend, and find plausible explanations for unjustifiable atrocities committed by his comrades in arms. More than anything, the play illustrates the way that Hitlerís rise to power was a gradual process. People were swept along on a wave of propaganda and lies to the point of being blind to the damage that they were helping to inflict upon innocent people.

The performance darts from one scene to the next with a fluidity of movement that follows a train of thought rather than a chronological path. This is aided by a soundtrack prompted by the subconscious of Halder himself. He hears music on every occasion. It is used as a comic device and as a tool for adding emotional or poignant meaning.

The seamless spiralling of scenes illustrating Halderís descent into the dark agenda of the Naziís is brutally contrasted by his relationship with Maurice (Ian Gelder) a Jewish contemporary and his closest friend. Mauriceís decline and fall under Nazi oppression stands indirect contrast to Halderís rise. The irony of the friendship is drawn out through Halderís love of the Jews and Mauriceís contempt for his kinsmen.

Dance is superb. His human portrayal of the subject matter endears you to his character despite the obvious hell he is helping to create. Emilia Fox as Halderís mistress Anne, brings a vibrant energy to the stage, adoring of her lover and mentor, yet equally as blind to the world that exists beyond their group of new-found friends, the endless parties, the weekends in the country.

It has been said that it is impossible to produce a comedy or humorous production whose subject matter is war. Indeed, with the recent praise heaped upon Roberto Benigni and his wartime movie ĎLife is Beautifulí, the debate has been reawakened. I contend that it is possible. Far from trivialising the subject matter, the playwright, C. P. Taylorís comic devices - which include the Chaplainesque depiction of Hitler - allow access to the subject on a human level.

It is all too often that periods in history such as the Second World War are looked upon as a broad period in time encompassing fear, bloodshed and loss. Taylor on the stage, like Benigni in film, opens a window into the life of an individual who is fundamentally affected by the war. It is personal and sometimes funny, as life often is, but it is also deeply tragic. This juxtaposition of emotion is also what elevates the human aspect of the piece and allows the audience members to ponder whether they would have reacted any differently if placed in the same position as Professor Halder.

If you are lucky enough to be able to get hold of a ticket, go to the Donmar Warehouse, you will not be disappointed.

By CP Taylor
With: Cymon Allen, Faith Brook, Eva Marie Bryer, Charles Dance, Emilia Fox, Ian Gelder, Peter Moreton, John Ramm, Benedict Taylor, Jessica TurnerLighting by Hartley T A Kemp
Musical Supervisor Michael Haslam
Sound by John A Leonard
The Donmar Warehouse Theatre, Earlham Street, London, WC2 Tel. 0171 369 1732)
From 03/18/99 to 05/22/99
Reviewed by James Walters based on 07/04 performance

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