With a timely London opening on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, this powerful transfer from Chichester sees Downton’s Penelope Wilton play another staunchly devoted mother destined to lose her son. In Mark Hayhurst’s fact-based drama, she plays Irmgard Litten, a woman who puts her own life at risk when she puts up one hell of a fight to save her beloved Hans.
Already the subject of a TV drama and documentary, Hans Litten was a German lawyer who embraced Judaism. In 1931, he had the temerity to subpoena Hitler and then expose his weaknesses in a hostile courtroom cross examination.
Less than two years later, the Fuhrer had his revenge. Litten was among those seized and placed under “protective custody”, then moved from one concentration camp to another where he was subjected to vicious beatings and torture until he finally took his own life in 1938.
Though focusing primarily on the well-connected Irmgard (whom Wilton invests with a controlled dignity) and her relentless campaigning for his release, Hayhurst leaves no doubt as to the dreadful atrocities inflicted on the principled, cultured Hans, who is played here by Martin Hutson.
Jonathan Church’s moving production splits the stage at a slant, with atmospheric lighting keeping the grimy prison visible in the background as David Yelland’s silky Lord Allen preaches appeasement. There is also John Light’s chillingly suave Gestapo officer, Dr Conrad, who condescends to hear the mother’s heartfelt petitioning but refuses to let her son go.
Theatre Royal Haymarket
Haymarket, SW1Y 4HT
Until 14th March
£15.00 – £59.50 + premium seats