The West End on a Monday night is quiet, but there's still a decent turn out for Harwood's play. The play deals with the relationship between Richard Strauss and Stefan Zweig. The material contains many of the requisites of a solid drama: two strong characters facing personal conflicts, leading to inevitable conflict with one another. This is a solid, old fashioned kind of play, which some would call well-written and others might describe as fusty. It's a showcase for the two lead actors, (Michael Pennington and David Horovitch) who seem to enjoy the somewhat stilted nature of their relationship, and who work effectively enough opposite one another.
This is theatre as it used to be (perhaps?) - people talking to one another, a playwright unfurling his point of view, acting as much as educator as entertainer. It's hard not to long for a little more provocation: everything is sagely observed, humanely described, Strauss' dilemma is articulated but never really entered, and all along there's something strangely passionless about the process, even including the scene where Zweig and his wife prepare to commit suicide. The lines about the inevitable corruption of politicians drew knowing laughs, and the audience seemed engaged, in a highly British, disengaged, manner.
It seemed a bit worrying that I found myself longing for the Nazis to arrive, and indeed the scenes with Goebbel's assistant (played with some vim by Martin Huston) were the ones which seemed to generate the most edge, the greatest sense of drama. Harwood has made something of a late career out of shrewd dramas taking a sideways look at the Nazi heritage. Acute though many of his observations clearly are, in the end this felt like one of those fifties British war movies, starring Kenneth More. The drama depends on the quality of the villain, and no-one did villains like the Nazis. Meaning in the end that the piece has a somewhat facile, simplistic feel, in spite of its ostensible complexity, and one emerges in a not dissimilar frame of mind to how one might have come out of a history class about Genghis Khan at the age of 14. Intrigued as much as disturbed, and a long way from truly getting to grips with the reality of what it might have been like to have to put up with Genghis Khan in the flesh; or, in the case of Collaboration, have to live through the barbarism of the Nazi era.