In the dying days of the second world war, a secret meeting took place between the SS chief Heinrich Himmler and Norbert Masur, a German-born Swede and representative of the World Jewish Congress.
Ben Brown bases this tense drama on that encounter, brokered by a physiotherapist, Felix Kersten, who worked as Himmler’s masseur. Masur sought to persuade Himmler to free Jews from terror and incarceration in the concentration camps; Himmler was strategising on how to rehabilitate his global reputation in the face of a now inevitable Allied victory, while ostensibly staying loyal to Hitler.
Directed by Alan Strachan, this Original Theatre company production was filmed during its run at the Park theatre in London earlier this year and works well on screen, the camera intensifying and focusing its drama. Nazi history has been well mined for stories but Brown’s finely researched script rarely falls into over-familiarity and still manages to shock.
Richard Clothier’s Himmler is a neat bespectacled man – a wolfish, chillingly polite officer in full uniform who insists that he has never had the personal grudge against Jews that Hitler bears. His real antagonists, he says, are the “Bolsheviks” but soon enough he is railing over the Jewish presence in Germany, calling it “alien” and blaming it for the losses of the first world war. Clothier gives a striking and sinister performance, keeping a creepily decorous, clipped tone to his voice though we feel the venom beneath. What is most chilling is his unbending, blinded certainty. Ben Caplan, as Masur, emanates silent horror but also a clenched indignation and both men’s performances burn with conviction.
The occasionally arty camera shots are rather cheesy but the human drama is gripping enough to forgive these annoyances. The final scene features a personal testimony from Jeanne Bommezjin (Olivia Bernstone), a prisoner who is freed from Ravensbrück as a result of this meeting. Her understated account carries such sorrow but also an exhilarating sense of finally – unbelievably – being liberated.