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"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have
lighted fools
The way to dusty death. "
(Macbeth: Act V Scene V)

'Taken at Midnight' by Mark Hayhurst

April 2018

Directed by: Richard Parish
Design by: David Hemsley-Brown
Lighting by: Alex Lyon
Sound by: Alex Lyon and David Perkins
Cast: Steve Alais, Alison Brooks, Graham Collier, Paul Halliwell, David Hemsley-Brown, Ben Howarth, Nick Lund and Derek Watts

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Taken at Midnight is set in Berlin during the 1930s when a brilliant lawyer, Hans Litten, called Hitler as a witness in the trial of a gang of SA men. On the night of the Reichstag fire, Hitler has Litten arrested as an enemy of human society.

As Litten disappears into the Nazi system, his mother, Irmgard, often at enormous personal risk, fights for the release of her son. This riveting drama explores her struggle, her son's resistance and the heroic battle of the weak against the powerful, truth against lies and mothers against murderers.

'There's something about the inspiring heroism of this tale and the way it's told that holds you spellbound.' (Telegraph).

As usual with Lighted Fools, when you enter the Theatre, the set shows signs of loving attention to detail, whetting the appetite and sparking that pre-theatre buzz that makes it so addictive. And as usual with Lighted Fools, the expectant theatre-addict was not disappointed.
The set, designed by David Hemsley-Brown (of whom more anon) was divided left and right between what was obviously a bare-concrete prison cell, and a bureaucrat's office dominated by a nazi flag.
As a reviewer of amateur theatrics one feels constrained always to 'be nice', to concentrate on the good stuff, even to the extent of fudging and blurring on occasion. Well, why don't I break that tradition and list what was not perfect about Lighted Fools' 'Taken at Midnight'. Let's see. Well, for one thing, the nazi flag was not an original. And, oh dear, I think one pair of spectacles may not have been from the '30s. The guard might, I suppose, have kicked the prisoner more vigorously.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it plain that I was employing heavy irony there. In truth I sincerely think this show was a fine demonstration that you don't have to go to London and spend hundreds to see top-class drama. From the very first second, when the darkness was sliced by a razor of light as the cell door opened, I was entranced. Through that sliver of light, a hapless man was thrown by a brute of a guard (Ben Howarth, excellent physical presence). Only later did we see that the cell was already occupied by two others, who, to judge by their beards, had been there some time. These were David Hemsley-Brown playing the anarcho-communist poet Erich Muhsam, and Paul Halliwell as the nobel-laureate Carl Von Ossietsky, both in prison for being cheerful, peace-loving good guys. The newcomer was Hans Litten (Nick Lund, first-class), thrown in after them for making Hitler look foolish in a law court.
Symbolically and literally placed between the cell and the office was Litten's mother, played with fiery-eyed charisma by Alison Brooks, at first in her own spotlight, and then in the nazi office, where she met Dr. Conrad (Graham Collier), an officer whose handsomely pedantic politeness belied his chilling uniform. These two began a relationship which gradually developed as she, at first contemptuous, later seeming to thaw, but resolute throughout, began to campaign for her son's release. They met several times, and one began to wonder 'will they, won't they', because he was so very charming, sweetly and naively explaining that her son was not in prison but in 'protective custody'. You felt sure that her heroic beauty would win him over. Here is the perfect place to avoid a plot-spoiler.
The cast was rounded off by Derek Watts and Steve Alais, as Fritz Litten and Lord Allen, and between the eight of them they made a really excellent job of delivering the script, written on commission by Mark Hayhurst, no stranger to the subject, having written it for TV on at least two previous occasions.
It was beautifully balanced and paced, intriguing, beguiling and heartbreaking. The high point of the evening belongs to Mr Hemsley-Brown, thoroughly believable as he approached his last breath taunting and goading his executioner. Or perhaps it goes to the technical crew who managed perfect synchronisation of sound and light in the torture scene. Or perhaps it goes to makeup, for transforming our hero from a suited and sanguine lawyer into a gaunt and spectral Dachau inmate. Or maybe to Mr. Lund who conveyed his unseen tortures so well through body language alone. All examples of theatre of the first order.
I regret beginning to pick out 'high points' and would almost go back and erase what I said above, except that they truly deserved mention. There were many, many other points equally deserving, but it would be tedious to try and list them all.
Heartfelt congratulations and thanks to Director Richard Parish and the whole crew for a wonderful evening.

The Mill Studio continues to offer a varied menu of productions. Last week 'Taken at Midnight' - Mark Hayhurst's affecting script about Hans Litten, a German lawyer who defended opponents of the Nazi regime during the turbulent early 30's - was presented by the Lighted Fools company. Director Richard Parish gave us a sharp, uncompromising production made all the more powerful by its restraint.
Hayhurst's dialogue deals with moral conviction and torture and is so forceful it could seduce the unwary into exploiting its deepening shadows with added blood, gore and hysteria.
That he and the cast avoided this to reveal resolve and conscience, held the audience I joined mesmerised.
In 1931 Hans Litten had subpoenaed Adolf Hitler to appear as a witness in the trial of Nazi paramilitaries. Litten publicly diminished Hitler with intellect and courage. There was, however, a price to pay; two years later with Hitler firmly in power, Litten is arrested, disappearing into 'protective custody'.
That might have been the end of this true account had his mother, Irmgard, not faced the Gestapo head-on relentlessly asking, 'Where is he?'; 'Why is he there?'
A strong cast contributed to a darkening atmosphere with Hans played by Nick Lund and Irmgard by Alison Brooks. Lund initially suggested the agile mind of a combative barrister but progressively a man weakening from the privations of captivity.
His final entrance, emotionally defiant but physically broken with his head shaven was astounding and for me virtually coup de theatre.
As Irmgard, Brooks understood the strength gained from an economy of movement; unflinching, her performance had the deft colouring of experience. Her final scene pleading with Hans to abandon his principles was compelling. 'I had prepared you for a world that no longer exists!' Frightening but stunning.

In a world beset with current conflict and tyranny it is maybe not such a difficult fact to grasp that nothing changes. And so it was, nearly ninety years ago, with the rise of the Nazi Party and all that was to follow.
But not before a 29 year-old German lawyer Hans Litten decided to subpoena none other than one Adolf Hitler to appear as a witness in the Berlin trial of some of his very own storm troopers. The accomplished young lawyer tied the self-styled Fuhrer in knots and in front of a crowded public gallery Hitler undoubtedly thought himself humiliated.
The additional fact that Litten had earlier in his life converted to Judaism was not going to help with what followed - the revenge of a dictator by incarceration of Litten as a political prisoner, concentration camp, humiliation, torture and for Hans, the ultimate self sacrifice when there was no more hope in the devil that was Dachau.
And throughout his living hell Litten's mother Irmgard never gave up hope, fighting for his dignity and release until it was too late.
This, then, is the true story told by playwright Mark Hayhurst in 'Taken At Midnight' and whilst perhaps not the most entertaining of subjects for a spring evening at The Mill Studio in Guildford, the cleverly crafted production of this sobering story is a testimony to that most accomplished band of actors who make up Lighted Fools Theatre Company.
Fools' founder and director of the play, Richard Parish, dislikes the 'A' word (think about it!) but it is difficult to believe his players are indeed 'non-professional'.
There is not a performance to be faulted. So, in singling out company stalwart Alison Brooks - she played in the first ever Fools' production sixteen years ago - as Irmgard, Nick Lund as Hans and Graham Collier as the Nazi officer Dr Conrad, it would be unfair not to mention the tremendous support roles of Paul Halliwell and David Hemsley-Brown as two more political prisoners, Derek Watts as Litten Senior and the two debut performances of Steve Alais as the foppish and useless Lord Clifford Allen and young Ben Howarth in the play's remaining roles and whom some of us have seen cut his acting teeth in perhaps more light-hearted roles elsewhere!
Honours, too, to the rest of the production crew......Hemsley-Brown, again, for the simple but so effective set design and construction and use of The Mill's intimate space.....Alex Lyon and David Perkins for the spot-on lighting and sound - all on perfect cue...Richard Parish's greatest supporter, Gill Parish for her wardrobe - and so much more....and the rest of the back-stage 'boys and girls' for whom there is never a bow - stage manager Sue Webb, publicity art work, Jane Hemsley-Brown and programme Michael Clements.
A final thought. 'Taken at Midnight' was commissioned and first performed at Chichester, only four years ago and this production is the first non-professional production outside the West Sussex city and London. For Lighted Fools to be granted that privilege says it all!


Another excellent production. Great choice of play which sadly resonates with present times

We thought some of the scenes were very powerful

Alison Brooks' performance was particularly masterful. It was poignant, determined and sympathetic at just the right moments. She was totally convincing and believable

Loved the attention to detail

I really liked the beating scene with all three of them with their arms up - very powerful!

It is not the sort of play you can say you 'enjoy'. The subject is somewhat grim. But it is amazing how much of the content is so relevant today

A very serious play - very thoughtful with very good direction and wonderful acting

Really stunning production

A great cast - most impressive

Another superbly performed play by your talented company

As usual, an amazingly polished production with stunning performances

A somewhat challenging play - one to be appreciated but not, I'm afraid, enjoyed!

I found it gruelling (which is a positive) and moving - some very strong performances and a powerful narrative

Graham Collier's performance was excellent and very menacing with such lovely expressions and reactions

The acting was exceptional and we were particularly impressed with the way such a small space was used together with the lighting, music and sound effects to convey such a powerful message

Yet another polished and gripping production

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