10th Feb 2015
Set after the end of the second world war, Taking Sides is a hard hitting drama about the investigation into Wilhelm Furtwangler (Kevin Gibson), the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. He is pursued mercilessly by Steve Arnold (Steve Robertson), a US major determined to prove that Furtwangler was a Nazi collaborator.
Ronald Harwood’s play looks into the nature of loyalty, patriotism, heroism, and justice. It questions whether art and politics can be kept separate – whether it is right to try to do so. Wilhelm Furtwangler remained as Conductor of the orchestra during the 30s and throughout the war – only escaping to Switzerland in 1944 when he was warned that his arrest by the Gestapo was imminent. Major Arnold, (call me Steve) is dismissive of the hero worship heaped on Furtwangler by the musicians in the Orchestra. He has been tasked with a job and is determined to see it through. His lack of interest in music being the reason “they” chose him for the job. He is cold, calculating and determined and manipulative. He accuses the musician of being a puppet to the Nazi high command, while apparently being controlled and directed by his own commanders (whoever they may be). At one point his secretary Emmi (Jessica Hannah) pleads with him not to become like “them” as he manipulates the truth and uses people’s weaknesses against them.
This is an uncomfortable play – black humour underlines the chilling subject matter. Supense builds throughout the play – dialogue punctuated by the silences of Arnold’s interrogation methods. Kevin Gibson plays the Kurtfangler with a haughty dignity, while Steve Robertson see-saws between the affable friendly “call me Steve” buddy, to the roaring, swearing yank, and the coldly calculating interrogator, haunted by the memories of the camps he has witnessed. Each of the characters has done what they must to survive in the war – none seem to touch the heart of the major.
As always, the Studio adds to the production, the small space and closeness of the audience to the stage anhancing the feeling of claustrophobia, of a net tightening and an inability to escape from the events that are unfolding.
You will come away having been forced to face some uncomfortable truths, and be left wondering which side you are on, and if it is the right one? What lengths would you go to for something you believed in, or to save your own skin?
Taking Sides plays until 14th Feb.