Killing Hitler

Wed 16th – Sat 19th May 2012

reviews

Rachel Hutchings

at 00:33 on 17th May 2012

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The opening night performance of 'Killing Hitler' began as technically and visually impressive as it was to continue. Taking our seats after walking through the set, the audience was faced with the still image of the characters in their default positions, with a woman shuffling scores at a piano, a man in a suit pondering the newspaper in an armchair, and someone standing on a table, transfixed on a wall. The set had a refined authenticity, complete with candles and a 1930s rocking horse. The effort put into the sounds and lighting was noticeable but despite these technical accomplishments, the writing could have explored human fallibility, the choice between ‘commission and omission’ in a more effective and sensitive manner, with much of the impressive set seeming a shield for rather underwhelming and at times static writing.

Based on the July Plot to assassinate Hitler, the play used scenes from alternating time periods to illustrate the different aspects of the relationships of the individuals involved in the plot, such as Adam von Trott, his secretary Missie, Adam and Claus von Stauffenberg, Anthony Eden and the Bishop of Chichester. While giving an honest performance as Adam, Christopher Williams failed to achieve the sincere and sympathetic performance required from a protagonist whose encounters with others involved in the plot constituted the focus of the narrative. The best performances were by those who made shorter appearances. David Shields gave an imposing yet moving stint as von Stauffenberg and Miles Lawrence’s Bishop of Chichester conveyed an urgent innocence in a confrontation with Anthony Eden, despite being only briefly on stage. Self-confessed on the programme, the only invented character was Hans Lohmann, a prison officer, who whilst providing a good presentation of a retrospective look at the July Plot, was an unnecessary creation and merely distracted from the other characters with clichéd considerations and confessions of guilt at not being as brave as those executed.

While the premise of the story, as well as impressive sets and ambitious lighting meant 'Killing Hitler' had some strong potential, the show did not deliver quite in the same way that its historical background and production could have done. There were far too many sound effects – at times they were also too loud – with dialogue in the opening scene being drowned out by background chatter simulating a court room. For some reason as well, whenever the cast needed to facilitate a door opening or closing, there was an action by the cast member accompanied by a sound effect, which added nothing to the story or setting, and instead was a false, almost slapstick approach to changing scenes. Saying this, Andrew Sachs's voiceover as Hitler, and some piano music providing a sweet contrast to the graphic torture scene of von Trott were a good use of sound as an instrumental addition to the story.

'Killing Hitler' was a good production, and presented a different aspect of the war with an examination of human relationships with scenes from before and after the execution of the plot. If the writing and the performers had lived up to the promise offered by the set, 'Killing Hitler' would have been great, but unfortunately the performance was essentially underwhelming.

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Ebonique Ellis

at 09:08 on 17th May 2012

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The most remarkable thing about the play was the obvious expensive production budget; neither the director nor actors were capable of showcasing themselves past the set. I will have to be honest and say the phonograph definitely seemed to be the main star of 'Killing Hitler'.

Adi Bar-Yosef's set design itself was too grand for the actors to handle. The audience would walk on the set to sit in their seats, while the actors completely in character would be reading or pacing the floor. The costume designer, Phoebe Williams, was either completely brilliant or lazy, because many of the Oxford students walking on stage to find a seat looked as though they could easily be an actor within the play. If Ms. Williams intention was to bring more reality to the show by not heavily emphasizing the time period's differences in clothes then she did very well.

I have been fortunate enough to see many student productions, Broadway productions, off-Broadway productions in the United States. I have seen productions with less budget and no experienced actors, able to bring across emotions to the audience such as humour, sadness, and joy. Yet, unfortunately this play barely brought on any emotions to me nor to the rest of the audience. It wasn't because the actors couldn't act; in fact all of the actors had performed as individuals swimmingly. I would also mention that David Shields had a particularly stand-out performance as Claus von Stauffenberg.

However, the play is not a series of monologues, but rather a dialogue between actors. The actors had little understanding of how to interact with each other, they did not convincingly show that even when they do not have speaking part, they must still be in character, and react to the dialogue of the other characters. Miles Lawrence and Marie Findlay were the few actors that did this convincingly for their performances, but the play suffered because this too great a focus of individualism manifested itself in many areas. The background sound, by Geoffrey Hall, was too loud at times to actually even hear the dialogue.

The play itself, lacked relevance to a modern audience. Yet, if the play was performed by a better stage troupe, I am sure I would have only good things to say about the written play. Overall, it seemed that older audience members enjoyed the play quite more than the younger audience members. I saw one young woman in the front row keep her eyes closed for about half the performance; unless you want to spend £5 to do the same, then I would advise you to miss this play.

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