In the continuation of this years Hidden Histories season at Chichester’s Minerva theatre Jonathan Church once again picks up the Nazi Germany story book following his spectacular success with The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 2012. Whilst that piece played games in the way that it told the story, this one stays firmly in the realms of reality and tells a fascinating and true story but a hitherto unknown one.
In the early days of Hitler’s maniacal rise to power he was placed in the dock to act as a witness in a trial that was led by fearless young lawyer Hans Litten. Hitler was not only humiliated but was made to look ordinary, mortal even. As the Nazi’s took control in later years Litten was first on the list to be imprisoned, apparently at first for his own safety. The fascination with the story however starts after all of these events, none of which we actually see, and Mark Hayhurst’s play focuses on the unlikely heroine that is Hans’ Mother, the resilient and resourceful Irmgard Litten.
Irmgard became the thorn in the side of the Nazi regime over her sons detention. She battled and harangued for his release and tirelessly campaigned not just within Germany but worldwide, shedding uncomfortable light into the goings on within the Nazi era. Her ever growing profile as she did so ensured her survival as she battled one of the deadliest regimes in the world.
In a welcome return to Chichester Penelope Wilton gives a wonderfully understated yet steely determined portrayal of Irmgard. Her no nonsense performance never overdramatises and despite her assuredness of delivery still manages to show a fragile vulnerability, reminding us that Irmgard may be a powerful campaigner but is first and foremost a Mother doing what mothers do best and protecting their offspring. Wilton excels at Motherliness and gives a beautifully crafted and warm portrayal of this remarkable woman.
Support is good, particularly from Martin Hutson as Hans Litten and Pip Donaghy and Mike Grady as Hans’ fellow political prisoners Erich Muhsam and Carl von Ossietzky. The Nazis are represented with a strong performance by John Light as Dr Conrad.
Church’s direction is solid if not overly imaginative but does a good enough job at telling the story. There are moments when you could really use some good old fashioned drama in a piece that is otherwise very sedate in it’s approach to sharing the tale. The construction of Hayhurst’s piece is that we never see any of the real dramatic pinch points of the story and other than a flashback scene where we just hear rather than see the trial that sparked it all we are left wanting more at times.
This is however a fascinating chapter within the history that we all think we know and is well worth the telling and well worth a watch.