Hess
  • By Ryan Hay
  • |
  • 18th Aug 2016
  • |
  • ★★★

Michael Burrell's award-winning one-man show Hess tells the story of its namesake Rudolf Hess, Deputy Führer of the Third Reich. Hess addresses the audience directly from his cell in Spandau Prison, recounting the thoughts that clearly have possessed him during his lifelong imprisonment, and demands that the audience confront a past that many of us would sooner keep buried.

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.

Reviews by Ryan Hay

Assembly George Square Studios

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

★★
St Ninian's Hall

Enron

★★
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Hess

★★★
Pleasance Courtyard

Swivelhead

★★
Scottish Storytelling Centre

Loud Poets

★★★★
Greenside @ Infirmary Street

Boys

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

In May 1941, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, bails out over Scotland on a self-appointed mission of peace. Immediately imprisoned, he was later sentenced to life at the Nuremberg Trials on charges of conspiracy for war and crimes against peace. Then he was incarcerated in the infamous Spandau Prison. In Michael Burrell’s award-winning one-man play, Hess, played by Derek Crawford Munn, supposes what he might say to an audience about himself, the Third Reich, and the world we have created since the downfall of the Nazis. How much has really changed?