REVIEW: Taking Sides
TAKING SIDES Duchess Theatre near Covent Garden Four stars We are in 1946 Berlin during the de-Nazification process. The interrogation room is wrecked, great cracks in the walls and planks hastily nailed up to keep the door in place. The war may be over
near Covent Garden
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We are in 1946
Berlin during the de-Nazification process. The interrogation room is wrecked, great cracks in the walls and planks hastily nailed up to keep the door in place. The war may be over but destruction remains - and the Nuremberg trials are going on, along with the more intimate trials of collaborators.
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It is a confrontation between Wilhelm Furtwangler, the sophisticated and dignified conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic throughout the Third Reich, and American Major Steve Arnold, a complete philistine who is in shock from his recent visit to Belsen where he witnessed horrors which still keep him from sleeping at night.
Employed as his secretary is the daughter of a war hero who was implicated in the plot to kill Hitler and his current sidekick is a young Jewish liberal David Wills who is horrified by Arnold's references to Furtwangler as a band leader.
Major Arnold is convinced that Furtwangler is a collaborator. He cannot believe that the musician managed to maintain his position with the orchestra and not make some kind of deal with the Nazis.
Evidence to the contrary is produced by a young woman, Tamara Sachs, whose husband had managed, with Furtwangler's assistance, to escape to France - only to be captured when the Germans marched into Paris.
The musician has saved many Jewish musicians from the Gestapo by getting them permits to move away from Germany.
How did he manage this, Arnold asks, without the co-operation of Dr Goebbels?
Also speaking up for the conductor is Helmuth Rode - who benefitted from the absence of many Jewish musicians by getting the post of second violinist in the orchestra.
How many freedoms did Furtwangler have to sacrifice to continue practising his art? Does this make him a villain or just a fallible human being?
Playwright Ronald Harwood, who premiered the play in 1995, doesn't even attempt to answer this question.
What he does is give us an engrossing discussion about the nature of art and politics and allow us to witness unsurpassable performances from Michael Pennington (Furtwangler), David Horovitch (Arnold) and the rest of the cast who are perfectly directed by Philip Franks.
Until August 29.