The rise, reign and fall of the Nazi party is, and always will be, fertile ground for theatre that aims to leave a lasting impression on its audience, and Killing Hitler is a worthy addition to this genre. It tells the story of the July plot to assassinate Hitler (a plot familiar to film goers from Valkyrie), but from the perspective of Adam von Trott (Chris Williams), an Oxford alumnus with and equal love for the German nation and Oxford’s dreaming spires.
Williams’ first scene left me somewhat doubting his performance as the central character; I expected von Trott to be a charismatic force of nature, driving the whole production forward. I came to realise however that that is not the case; Williams’ von Trott is the mild mannered, principled, gentlemanly Oxford scholar. He is an honourable aristocrat, hopelessly outgunned by the modern world – the scene where, awaiting arrest, he tries to dictate a letter to The Times as a parting shot captures perfectly the noble futility of his character,
It is in such scenes that the wealth of thought and research put into the script shines through. Watching Clarita von Trott (Hannah Gliksten) read her husband’s final letter (gifted to the production by the von Trott family) is genuinely heartbreaking. Not every scene reaches these heights, however. Not content with the fascinating story they are dramatising, the cast have pumped some scenes full of entirely unnecessary melodrama: Bishop Bell ‘s(Miles Lawrence) argument with Anthony Eden (Frederick Bowerman, a striking resemblance to the man himself) is nothing more than a display of blustering gestures, table banging, and exasperated gasps.
Similarly, the interaction between an Oxford tutor and von Trott contains no quiet understatement, no unsaid feelings; just frustrated shouting. These scenes all share the characteristic of being ones of exposition, simply explaining the politics and rationale of appeasement: as such, the speeches made tend to read like GCSE history essays, perhaps explaining why such an exaggerated attempt has been made to enliven them.
They should, however, be helped greatly by the innovative staging planned by Lucie Dawkins – set in the Keble O’Reilly, the staging will consist of a series of rooms, each representing a different timeand place in the life of Adam von Trott, enveloped by the audience for what promises to be a hugely intimate performance. Such a staging will hopefully lift the poorer scenes that I saw from being dire to, at very least, mediocre.
Nevertheless, a few poor performances should not spoil what otherwise looks to be a spectacular production. When it is good, Killing Hitler is unbelievably good. At its best, this play will elicit genuine emotion, as every scene builds on the last to create a sublime, moving, emotional portrait of an extraordinary man’s life. And a little unwanted melodrama won’t spoil that.