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Verdict: Justice at Nuremburg?
Guildford - July 02
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre - 4-6 July 02
Americans are reluctant to sign up to the new international court for war crimes. The
tribunal at The Hague has seldom been free from controversy in its short life. The
Lockerbie trial has been undermined by conspiracy theories and political expediency.
What better time to examine the fate of Rudolf Hess, and his imprisonment for life
Hess famously flew to Scotland to intercede with the British Goverment for a negotiated
peace. He'd fought at the Battle of Ypres in the First World War and, despite being
Chancellor Adolf Hitler's right-hand man, retained a grasp of humanity.
He was also out of the war well before the Russians and Americans became combatants.
Yet Russian and American judges were prominent among those who tried him at Nuremburg,
and it was at Russia's absolute insistence that he was never freed.
Hess was imprisoned with his idol Hitler prior to Government, it was to Hess that the later
German leader dictated his biography Mein Kampf ('My Struggle'. The book has a rare
density of prose, and it's fascinating to speculate how much more widely read it might
have become if the ReichFuhrer had shared a cell with, say, Jilly Cooper). Hess
adored him - in perhaps quite a childlike way. He was titled as Hitler's deputy, but
regarded as a nominal figure. At Nuremburg he was acquitted of crimes against humanity -
for which the penalty was death - and served over 40 years (till his reputed suicide) for
waging war, and conspiring to wage it.
Paul Croft gives a spell-binding performance as Hess. He addresses a journalist (unseen)
in his cell and tells his life story, starting from his birth in Egypt, and the missing
of his family, the aspect of captivity he finds most hurtful.
He's a shrewd observer of modern Europe, and Britain in particular - noting for example its fascination with the Third Reich. He's a progressive taste in music - the Beatles are
an unexpected favourite. And he's right up to date in his following of current affairs and political analysis. He can work up to a rant at what he regards as the unfairness of his
extended sentence (shared by Churchill, who firmly committed himself in print in his
disapproval of Hess's extended punishment).
Croft gets deep into the characterisation of a remarkable and controversial man. Never an
easy figure to classify - neither a hissable villain nor fitting the stereotype of the
B-Movie 'Bad German' - Hess died before the reunification of Germany. What he'd think now
of a Europe led from Berlin, the lime-trees replanted in Unter Den Linden, and new
lamp-posts along the road from the Reichstag to designs by Hitler's architect Albert Speer,
is academic - he's dead. Croft's fascinating portrayal opens a time capsule into a man -
and an age - that now belongs to the last century.
Original make-up design, Rebecca Flores and Andrew Lukas. Original production design, Fiona Hamilton. Performer, Paul Croft. Director, Steve Harris. Writer, Michael Burrell. Technicals, theatre staff. Producer, Andrew Lukas. Presented by Amrumer Productions in association with Casarotto Ramsay and Associates Ltd.
reviewed 4 July 02 / Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
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