Set in the 1980s, Michael Burrell’s award-winning play, Hess, explores the life of Rudolf Hess, deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler. Hess speaks to an audience from his cell at Spandau prison about his life, punishment and beliefs. This one-man play is a great insight into the life of an infamous man which otherwise may not be known to many.
In May 1941, Rudolf Hess was afraid of having a war on two fronts and thus wanted victory without war. This led him to embark on a diplomatic mission to Scotland to try and secure a peace with Britain before going to war with Russia. However, this mission was unsuccessful and he was proclaimed mad by Hitler. At the Nuremberg Trials, he was found guilty of crimes against peace and conspiracy for war, yet was acquitted of what is supposedly the only real crime, crimes against humanity.
At the time of the play, Hess is the only surviving Nazi in Spandau prison and by the ‘80s was a very old man. Performed by Derek Crawford Munn, Hess’ frailty from old age combined with his struggle with a stomach ulcer does not make Munn’s portrayal any less unsettling. The brief moments of empathy that the audience feels for him – such as when describing how he is unable to touch his family – and his comic moments contrast drastically with outbursts of rage.
Burrell’s script portrays Hess as a very complex character, one which is difficult to predict from an audience perspective. The different layers and emotions of Hess are executed brilliantly by Munn, he is so convincing that at times it was almost scary. Munn’s performance onstage is complemented by the simplistic set and lighting design. It ensures that the audience attention does not stray from Munn, although director Kim Kinnie’s decision to at one point immerse the stage in red light was daunting.
Asking if he could possibly be crazy after managing to fly to Scotland alone when even Hitler didn’t think it was conceivable, Hess does come across as slightly insane at points. However, this is not the case and it becomes clear to the audience that Hess was not insane.
Whilst it is not flawless, Burrell’s script combined with Munn’s performance is mesmerising and it is easy to lose yourself in the performance. A thought-provoking play that really makes you consider the human behind one of the most senior men in the Nazi party.
Whilst seeking no forgiveness, Hess justifies his actions throughout the play and I would recommend this play to anyone who is interested in seeing a different side to the history of man.
Hess is running until 29th August (except 23rd) at the Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh, 15:00
Image credit: edfringe