Michael Burrell's award-winning one-man show
This play deserves attention, provokes thought, and demands discourse – for this it is crucial.
Lumbering onto the stage with a limp and a mumbling speech impediment, Derek Crawford Munn embodies Hess' physicality with grim precision. The infamous war criminal is portrayed with a chilling frailty, at odds somewhat with the robustness and veracity of his panegyric. This is a strong and intelligent man – a man, we are reminded, who fully supported and upheld the philosophies underpinning the Third Reich, and assisted in the writing of Hitler's Mein Kampf. But he is a man nonetheless.
It is this tension that Hess sets out to explore. To what extent is Hess' humanity impeached upon by the punishment delivered him at the Nuremberg Trials – a man who is not allowed to touch any other people must have a shadow of a life, and the play posits the idea that the audience (the Allied Forces) may be guilty of similar cruelty to that of the Nazi Party, for delivering and advocating this 'justice'. Burrell's script is a gruelling and forceful confrontation with our complicity in human cruelty, and the way in which extremity affects a life – daring material is dealt with delicately, and the text never shies away from asking the difficult question. Despite a slightly reductive heavy-handed scene in which Hess whirls around the stage, miming a flight to Britain, the script is moving and engaging (no mean feat for a one-man show of this length).
That being said, this production was less than flawless. While Crawford Munn embodies Hess with skill, there are moments in which the character's self-control slips which are consistently overplayed, and the heights of Hess' emotion fall into the one-man show's characteristic elephant trap by being played with too much self-conscious acknowledgment of the audience.
Nor is the script particularly conducive to Fringe theatre, almost demanding a striking semi-permanent representation of Hess' cell – a table and chairs and a couple of suspended bulbs fail to deliver on the naturalistic sense that was offered by the script and acting. LX design, too, is a little over-egged, and contributes to the overplaying of moments of high emotion.
All this being said, Hess is an insight to a man, a mind, and a world that most of us have little access to, and little desire to access. This play deserves attention, provokes thought, and demands discourse – for this it is crucial.