A Nazi Comparison review at Waterloo East Theatre, London – ‘unwatchable’
Hanns Johst’s Schlageter is perhaps the great unproduced Brexit play, the rise of populism epic that has yet to see the light of day. The main reason, one suspects, is that it is dedicated to Adolf Hitler, and was first performed to celebrate his 44th birthday in 1933.
The play tells the (true) story of Albert Leo Schlageter, a young German First World War veteran who was shot by the French in 1923, following an armed protest at their ongoing occupation of the Ruhr Valley. You’d be surprised at how sympathetic a central character he is.
And that’s the point. Staging the original, with its relatable, disaffected hero – basically Jimmy Porter minus the misogyny – would allow modern audiences to see the extent of the troubling parallels (not least with trends in British theatre) and to draw their own conclusions.
Sadly, this is not the option taken by Craft Theatre in A Nazi Comparison. Instead, it has clumsily devised the story of a left-wing activist who reads Schlageter herself, sees the parallels between Nazi propaganda and, say, the presidency of Donald John Trump, and then embarks on a personal trajectory which more or less exactly mirrors that of Johst’s hero; inadvertently likening Corbynistas to proto-fascists in the process.
This spectacular lack of intellectual rigour is however dwarfed by the wild unevenness of the production itself, which veers between wacky physical humour to unwatchable overheated melodrama.
There are the germs of good ideas here, but in its present form they do not stand the faintest chance of ever being recognised.
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