Never has pre-show music been better selected: upon entering the second theatre space at Surgeon’s Hall we are greeted with a single mournful violin battling against heavy acoustic drums. Both play simultaneously, detracting from rather than complementing each other: the track is neither powerful nor beautiful.
The concept is undeniably promising and Göring’s life has obviously been fastidiously researched by Werner Fritsch.
Enigma takes the form of a monologue delivered by Emmy Göring (Karin Pettenburger), German actress and wife of Gestapo founder Hermann Göring. Over coffee, she takes us through her life and friendships with leading Nazis, not least the Führer himself, in a subtle rumination on life before, during and after the third Reich. The concept is undeniably promising and Göring’s life has obviously been fastidiously researched by Werner Fritsch.
Unfortunately Fritsch fails to do anything of interest with his research and, notwithstanding the odd poetic flourish, the text plods along with no real urgency or sense of compelling drama. To compensate for this, Hartmut Nolte directs Pettenburger all over the stage, as if aimlessly pacing around the room whilst telling the story will make up for the lack of dynamism in the text. It doesn’t. When she sits in the front row of the audience things become a bit more interesting and confessional but this sadly doesn’t last.
It’s Pettenburger who saves this production. Her performance is often touching and she plays Göring with an impressive subtlety. Whilst she doesn’t succeed in making Göring a sympathetic character this is mainly a fault of the text and she does her best with what she’s got – a moment where she reimagines her husband as an elephant is oddly beautiful and she portrays Göring’s inner child, sweet-tooth and all, with real skill.
This can only take the piece so far, however. As strong as Pettenburger is, she can’t rescue Enigma from its bland writing and clunky direction. A shame, as there could be a genuinely fascinating theatrical piece about Emmy Göring and her obviously intriguing life. This, though, isn’t it.