In the last days of the Second World War, Norbert Masur, a representative of the World Jewish Congress, secretly flies to Germany to meet Heinrich Himmler. Himmler was one of history’s greatest monsters, and a primary architect of the Holocaust. Mauser, in what can only be described as an extraordinary act of bravery, has done this in an attempt to free Jews still in concentration camps.
All of this is true. I have to admit, prior to the play, I had no knowledge of this. But now, I don’t imagine that I will forget Masur’s bravery anytime soon. So while The End Of The Night might not be a great success in terms of a play, it has left me with this piece of information. That is not nothing.
Felix Kersten (Michael Lumsden) very nicely plays a fine line as Himmler’s masseur, using this relationship to help people flee and in coordinating this meeting. He appears to like Himmler, they might almost be friends in a very disjointed way, but there are many questions here about his actions and the true reason behind them. Is he just saving his own skin? Has he traded this meeting for a life in Sweden? Then again, do his motivations matter if he is going to help Mauser save people from concentration camps?
Ben Caplan has a much tougher job as Norbert Mauser. There is an early line about how he is the ‘only free Jew in Germany’ and of course his life very much depends on a piece of paper and the word of Himmler. He’s advised to not disagree with Himmler, so has to stand there and listen to the repeated anti-Semitic lies and nonsense. He is absolutely at the mercy of a man with no mercy. The sheer bravery of Norbert Masur cannot be understated. Is it any wonder then that Caplan comes across as passive and flat; what can he do or say to Himmler? Caplan is much stronger during his monologues to the audience, so I suspect the issues are more to do with the role and the direction rather than his own talents.
Richard Clothier delivers a strong performance as Heinrich Himmler. If anything, he does too good a job. His Himmler is charismatic – even as he spews vile, evil dialogue. As the programme itself notes, his words are very much like the lines Holocaust deniers use here and now, decades later. At one point, he speaks of closed borders, refugees and quotas, all of which are huge issues still in our present world, not least in light of the invasion of Ukraine. So, the audience are in the very uncomfortable of almost agreeing with Heinrich Himmler, as he makes points about refugees that are as applicable today. I have to say I found this was really disconcerting.
I wanted to hear a lot less from Himmler and a lot more from, well, anyone else. However, reading about the actual events afterwards Masur himself reports that Himmler did most of the talking. But this does not make for good drama. Yes, listening to Himmler is chilling (and some of the dialogue is taken word for word from his speeches) but the tension is too flat.
Unfortunately, while I think The End Of The Night has a solid foundation and a play with a lot of potential, it needs further adaptation. It feels like it stuck with the facts of the meeting too much. Adapt the events, give Mauser a larger role within the meetings – less research, more drama please.
Written by Ben Brown
Directed by Alan Strachan
Produced by Park Theatre and Original Theatre
The End of The Night plays at Park Theatre until 28 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.