THE ARTS: The Main Event - at Home with Hitler ; ALBERT SPEER NATIONAL THEATRE LYTTELTON LONDON

By Taylor, Paul | The Independent (London, England), May 29, 2000 | Go to article overview
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THE ARTS: The Main Event - at Home with Hitler ; ALBERT SPEER NATIONAL THEATRE LYTTELTON LONDON


Taylor, Paul, The Independent (London, England)


ALBERT SPEER is often described as the "good" Nazi. Hitler's pet architect and then his armaments minister, Speer escaped the gallows at Nuremberg by convincing the judges that he knew nothing about the systematic extermination of the Jews. But how could a man at the apex of Germany's war effort have remained so ignorant? What was the actual extent of his complicity in the crimes of the Nazis, and how genuine was his post-war reconstruction of himself - a project of penitence he revealingly undertook with all the assiduous zeal he had once lavished on the planned megalomaniac rebuilding of Berlin?

David Edgar's Albert Speer, which has just opened in the Lyttelton, is based on Gitta Sereny's monumental, intimately researched study of this most fascinating and morally ambiguous of Hitler's henchmen. It is suffused with her contentious sense that Speer deserves to be regarded as a classically tragic figure, on account of his tortured struggle with the mind's natural psychological defences against facing the hideous and annihilating truth, and because of his eleventh-hour access to self-knowledge. As one of his daughters put it: "How can a man admit more and go on living?"

You get the impression, though, that Sereny's close involvement with this theatrical venture has also had a flattening effect, preventing an over-respectful Edgar from taking the imaginative liberties with the material that would make it come alive as drama.

The piece begins and ends, daringly enough, with dream sequences. The trouble with the first is that it gives the game away far too soon about the hero's private unresolved guilt. Alex Jennings' smooth, urbane, painfully hollow-seeming Speer is seen in post- Spandau old age, dozing with a copy of his best-selling memoirs on his lap.

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