Review Round-Ups

Taken at Midnight another hit for Chichester

Mark Hayhurst’s new play centres on a celebrated German lawyer who put Hitler on the stand

Penelope Wilton as Irmgard and Allan Cordnuer as Fritz
Penelope Wilton (Irmgard) and Allan Cordnuer (Fritz)
© Manuel Harlan

Maxwell Cooter

The notion of Adolf Hitler in a witness box, cross-examined as to whether he believed in violence or not, sounds like a wild fantasy. But this unlikely event really did happen and is the subject of Mark Hayhurst's excellent play…. Hayhurst explored this theme in his television play, The Man who Crossed Hitler, but this retelling adds an extra dimension… Jonathan Church's production slips easily between the two narrative strands… The play's real triumph is to show us that totalitarianism isn't all jackboots and torture chambers (although there's plenty of that) but comes with a veneer of respectability, the weasel words of Conrad as he talks of Litten being taken into custody for his own protection are being repeated today in hundreds of different tongues.

Jane Shilling
Daily Telegraph

Penelope Wilton as Irmgard deploys her habitual manner – of a formidable gentlewoman who has just won second prize in a Women’s Institute competition for the best Victoria sponge – to brilliant effect… Hayhurst’s drama, inevitably harrowing, is nevertheless permeated with Litten’s own ineradicable wit and passionate sense of the importance of art… The overbearing simplicity of Robert Jones’ designs ingeniously suggests the bullying Nazi taste in architecture; Tim Mitchell’s exquisite lighting makes virtuoso use of shadow and Matthew Scott’s nerve-twanging score is the musical embodiment of dread… Martin Hutson as Litten give profoundly affecting accounts of men whose humanity survived all that inhumanity could do to obliterate it.

Martin Hutson (Hans) and Dermot Mclaughlin (SA Officer)
Martin Hutson (Hans) and Dermot Mclaughlin (SA Officer)
© Manuel Harlan

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

[A] sombre, well-crafted and important new play… On Robert Jones’ evocative, hollowed-out set, with its walls of gray slabs of concrete, the drama cuts stylishly between Irmgard on the outside and Hans, bowed but not broken, on the inside… Wilton, in another magnificent stage performance, often stands alone on the bare set, looking exposed but redoubtable… This fine actress, wasted in the current series of Downton Abbey, is unsurpassed for the manner in which she can present an unruffled exterior that nonetheless suggests a maelstrom of conflicting emotion underneath… Jonathan Church directs a still and elegant production with notable confidence… It’s an effective, sobering device to have almost no raised voices despite the mounting horror.

Natasha Tripney
The Stage

This was something Hitler would not forgive… As Irmgard, Penelope Wilton gives a restrained, contained performance, one suffused with the quiet fire of a mother’s love… Martin Hutson capably conveys the ways in which Litten is slowly broken, both physically and psychologically… Robert Jones’ angular expressionistic set is very striking and Jonathan Church's production contains moments of real tension… As a whole it feels a bit dusty and oddly emotionally uninvolving given the subject matter… While it lacks dramatic momentum as a play, it makes for an absorbing and intelligent history lesson… A necessary retelling of an important story about the cost of resistance… Absorbing retelling of a true story of a mother's struggle.

Sam Marlowe
The Times

This new play by Mark Hayhurst, who has previously created a documentary and a drama on the same subject for the BBC, is the last in Chichester's Hidden Histories season, and honours Litten in a way that is clear-eyed and tough-minded and all the more moving for that… Jonathan Church's direction is so sharply focused, and the acting so rigorous, that the piece acquires powerful precision… Played by Penelope Wilton, Irmgard is an indomitable realist, unflinchingly prepared to plead… Wilton conveys vast weariness, deep, bitten-back pain, and a restless, whirring intellect… Hutson suggests with beautiful understatement a sensitive, profoundly rational mind tormented beyond the limits of sane endurance… Intensely absorbing.