Theatre: Bringing justice where Nuremberg failed
SPEER THE ALMEIDA, LONDON
Thursday 11 March 1999
It's particularly telling given that the real Albert Speer lived on for almost 15 years after being released from 20 years in Spandau prison for Nazi war crimes. During those latter years he was endlessly interviewed, largely in response to his two published bestsellers, Inside the Third Reich and Spandau, The Secret Diaries. Vilar's play, set in 1980 and directed by and starring Klaus Maria Brandauer, uses the invented character of Bauer, a senior East German official, to ask Speer the crucial unanswered questions. After all, despite his intense, personal proximity to Hitler as the architect of the planned world capital of Germania and then as Minister for Armaments - in effect, his complete control of the German economic war effort - Speer saved his neck at Nuremberg, chiefly by convincing the judges that he did not know of the horrific, premeditated policy of eradicating Europe's gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped and, most specifically, the Jews.
Bauer, like many, was unconvinced by Speer's testimony. Speer returns to the hall which formerly housed his General Building Inspectorate where he is due to give a lecture about his architecture. Not only is the vast, enveloping back wall of the Almeida stage a perfect setting for this, the entire situation mirrors the fact that just hours before his death, Speer was being interviewed about his architecture at the BBC.
At one point in the published text, there's a reference to Gitta Sereny's masterly, hypnotic biography of Speer and it's fair to say that Vilar's play is indebted to Sereny's work. She even shares Sereny's almost thriller- like sense of pace as Bauer quietly and cunningly lays traps to get at the truth behind Speer's story.
The final damning evidence of Speer's unacknowledged complicity is drawn from Sereny's painstaking research but is none the less dramatic for that. In the second half, after Speer's complicity in the murder of the Jews and his unacknowledged anti-semitism has been "proved", Bauer offers Speer the chance to rebuild the economically shattered East Germany. This proposition provides a real dramatic lift and asks wider questions about authoritarian political regimes, both left- and right-wing. Also, Speer's complex response reveals far more about his feelings than the earlier, occasionally clumsy, detective-like drawing out of known facts.
Ultimately, the strength of Speer lies in the scrupulous, magnetic performances. Both actors are supremely relaxed, which makes them utterly compelling to watch. Given that both are performing in a foreign language, it is even more impressive. The controlled formality of Sven Eric Bechtolf's panther-like Bauer is belied by his easy wit and he's more than matched by Brandauer. His eerily meticulous Speer is completely convincing, radiating the true heat of power by boldly and calmly taking all the time in the world.
Even without the urgent morality underpinning the play, their grippingly understated performances alone would guarantee its theatrical life.
To 27 March (0171-359 4404)
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits record low as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Germany sees 'visible rise' in support for far-right extremism in response to perceived 'Islamisation' of the West