The Devil’s Architect

Te Papa: Soundings, Wellington

19/09/2008 - 21/09/2008

Production Details

Ken Keys and Theatre Enterprises in association with HaBYT and Canadian writer Dolly Reisman invite you to attend the world premiere of The Devil’s Architect at Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Wellington, on Friday the 19th of September at 8pm.

All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely
– John Dalberg

The Devil’s Architect is an intimate psychological study of the mind of ALBERT SPEER, Hitlers’ architect and armaments Minister.

Set during Speers’ 20 years in Spandau Prison, after the fall of the Third Reich, the troubled Speer is visited by a Calvinist Priest, a Woman and his Conscience. In order to find peace, Speer must come clean about his part in the Fuhrers’ grand plan, including the forced labour camps, which placed the doomed lives of 800,000 workers in his hands.

The Devil’s Architect is a probing exploration of Speers’ mind – an exploration that reveals his strengths, torment and eventual catharsis.

Jeff Kingsford-Brown (ROME: The Musical, The Farm),
Liz Kirkman (King Lear, A Bright Room Called Day) and
Kevin Keys (The Graduate, Milo’s Wake)

Lighting Design: Chapman Tripp Award-winner Jennifer Lal
Set Design: Chapman Tripp Award-winner Brian King  

The Devil’s Architect
19-21 September, 8.00pm
Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, Wellington
Bookings: Ticketek – 0800 TICKETEK or
Cost: $20/10 (Groups 5+ $15/8)

Intense but unsatisfying

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 01st Oct 2008

A short play by a Canadian playwright about Albert Speer entitled The Devil’s Architect: an intense study of the nature of evil was given its world premiere at Soundings Theatre last weekend. It will play in Hastings from 6-8 October under the auspices of Theatre Enterprises and Hawke’s Bay Youth Theatre. Odd are the ways of theatre at times.

Like David Edgar’s play, Albert Speer: the story of Hitler’s Architect, seen at Bats four years ago, Dolly Reisman’s play attempts to probe the truth behind Speer’s statement that he was guilty of not knowing about the Holocaust. His defense at the Nuremberg Trials was: I could have known. I should have known. But I did not know."

Using Gitta Sereny’s book Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, David Edgar presents Speer in the context of his family, the Nazi hierarchy, German politics and the sweep of European history. Dolly Reisman’s focus is much narrower, confining Speer to a prison cell in Spandau, where he was incarcerated for twenty years, with occasional flashbacks to scenes with his mistress, Inga.

In the cell Speer is confronted by Pastor Georges Casalis, who blames Speer for the war but has come to help him become a different man. Speer sees Casalis as a man who has come to examine his soul. The play probes for some sort of truth about moral compromise as the sophisticated, intelligent Nazi and the troubled Pastor whose faith has been undermined by the war discuss, debate, and turn the tables on each other in their lengthy duologues.

Jeff Kingsford Brown as Speer and Kevin Keys as Casalis provide solid, committed performances, but their characters remain mouthpieces rather than people with troubled souls. Liz Kirkman in the enigmatic role of Inga provides good support as does Tiffany Anderson on violin and Dan Browne with his soundscape.

It is intense but in the end it is unsatisfying theatre. All the movement is intellectual, not physical, and what emotional undercurrents there are, are subsumed in all the talk, while the "dramatic" moments between Speer and Inga seem contrived. It might succeed as a radio play where the static nature of the drama would not be so evident.


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Good performances in weak play

Review by John Smythe 20th Sep 2008

The world premiere of Canadian writer Dolly Reisman’s The Devil’s Architect has taken place at Te Papa’s Sounding’s Theatre – courtesy director Ken Keys and Theatre Enterprises in association with Hawkes Bay Youth Theatre (HaBYT) – four years after David Edgar’s British National Theatre-commissioned Albert Speer played at BATS, directed by David O’Donnell (see review appended below).

Comparisons are valid because both plays are based on Gitta Sereny’s award-winning book, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth and the central question in all three cases is: did Speer – Hitler’s architect and, later, Minister for Armaments and War production – know about the death camps and was he therefore complicit? (Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes, incidentally, is also inspired by Sereney’s book but doesn’t actually mention Speer.)

Edgar’s play runs for three hours and originally had 27 actors but was done by 15 in Wellington; Reisman’s play runs about an hour and has three actors. In both cases, in Spandau prison where Speer was incarcerated for 20 years, Calvanist pastor Georges Casilis converses with Speer in the quest for some kind of redemption.

In the larger play, the duologues with the pastor are robust and challenging as Speer slowly wins Casilis – and us – round, only to have it all rivetingly re-litigated in the second half. In the smaller play Casalis (the accurate spelling, I think) is reduced to the questioner side of relatively mundane Q&A sessions, revealing no real personality or point of view.

These are offset by a series of remembered scenes between Speer and his mistress Inga, who doesn’t appear in Edgar’s play and may be Reisman’s invention. (After serving his sentence and being reunited with his family, Speer did have an affair with an English woman, and there was an Aryan beauty called Inga Ley who was reputed to have been involved with Hitler and committed suicide in 1942 …)  

All credit to Jeff Kingsford Brown (Speer) and Kevin Keys* (Casalis) for believing so totally in their characters, even if their rather functional dramatised-history-lesson dialogue is played out at a steady, flat pace with some aimless wandering helping to further dissipate any potential tension. 

Liz Kirkman’s Inga – also a fully committed performance – offers welcome respite but it’s hard to get a handle on her role. Is she there as seductress, comforter, provocateur, a means of revealing the true moral character of Speer …? The steamy vamping and stylised sequences – e.g. stepping over dead bodies to dance – are somewhat redolent of Berlin Cabaret, sans fishnet stockings and bowler hat. And from time to time she becomes other people: Eva Braun, Himmler … Is she happening in Speer’s head or simply a playwright’s theatrical device?

With weak lines like, "Have you ever wondered about God, pastor?" I tend to blame the script for the perceived short-comings. When, at the end, Casalis says he is moving on and Speer begs him to stay – "We’ve only just started!" – I want to slap Speer for being so self indulgent and unrealistic in the face of the atrocities that have been revealed. Just because the play hasn’t given Casalis a life of his own, that doesn’t mean he can’t have on beyond it!

The amount of prior knowledge you bring to the play may help your appreciation of it. It seems to presume we already know the positions he held under Hitler. And Speer’s final line, "It has been a good life; a good life" may resonate more of you know he became known as "the good Nazi" because he was the one who apologised for what happened.

Brian King’s simple split setting – sparse Spandau cell and trough garden; Inga’s boudoir – backed by a framed barbed wire swastika against a Reich red sky, is a strong element. Dan Browne’s visceral soundscape is extremely effective. And Tiffany Anderson’s live violin adds well to the texture and moods.

The production plays until Sunday at Soundings then moves to the Century Theatre in Hawkes Bay from 6 to 8 October.

PS: I’d be interested to know
a) how come this play is getting its world premiere in NZ
b) how it relates to the work of a Young people’s Theatre.

[National Business Review /Arts – 8 October, 2004]


Albert Speer
by David Edgar
directed by David O’Donnell
at BATS, Wellington 
Until 16 October 2004
Reviewed by John Smythe

A seamless, dynamic and subtly compelling evocation of flawed humanity

Why is Albert Speer, a large-cast play that premiered in the 890-seat Lyttleton auditorium of the National Theatre, Britain’s most establishment theatre, being performed four and a half years later at the 100-seat Bats, Wellington’s smallest and most alternative theatre, by a co-operative that includes leading New Zealand professional actors?

Answer: because this is the only way such a play will get done here. Even though the original cast size of 27 has been trimmed to 15 for this production, in NZ’s professional scene such large cast plays are alternative theatre. That it is long (3 hours plus interval), serious, politically edgy and demands intellectual as well as emotional engagement from their audiences, may also mitigate against its being done here – or anywhere else in the English-speaking world for that matter – by mainstream theatres.

Until now, since its 2000 London début, David Edgar’s Albert Speer has only played in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan and Finland. This co-op got $22,000 from the Arts Board of Creative New Zealand and other small amounts of sponsorship to cover expenses, which means (at $18 or $12 per ticket) the professional participants are, yet again, the venture’s major sponsors.

The advantage for Wellington audiences is that they are able to engage with epic drama fluently delivered in an intimate space by a committed ensemble of skilled actors in David O’Donnell’s clear, to-the-point and adroitly modulated production, deftly designed by Martyn Roberts (set and lighting), Zoe Fox (costumes), Andrew Brettell (audio-visuals), and Sebastian Morgan-Lynch and Steve Gallagher (music and sound).

Albert Speer (Paul McLaughlin) was architect, event designer and, finally, minister for armaments and war production to German chancellor Adolf Hitler (William Walker). Edgar’s play is based on Gitta Sereny’s award-winning book, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. Its central question is, did Speer know about the death camps and was he therefore complicit?

Given Hitler’s insistence they concern themselves only with their "own domain", was Speer a good man who was simply unaware of what how morally corrupt his "chief" and Nazi colleagues were, or was he the most cowardly liar of them all?

Perhaps his greatest talent was self deception? Like many throughout history, including the present day, whose career paths, business fortunes or family loyalties cross paths with questionable practices in politics, commerce or personal relationships, perhaps his very survival depended on his ability to turn a blind eye.

A telling detail in a scene with his family, post-war and his Spandau incarceration, reveals that Speer has ordered pāté de fois gras. While it’s a modern consciousness that may, or may not question the force-feeding of geese to please human palates, it represents one small step into the moral territory the play explores on a much bigger scale.

Edgar starts with the Nuremberg war trials that sentenced Speer to 20 years in Spandau prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity, then judiciously filters the events that led Speer to Spandau through his subjective memory, prompted by the prison’s redemption-focused but challenging Calvanist pastor Georges Casilis (Peter Rutherford).

The second half starts with Speer writing from Spandau to explain himself to his now grown daughter Hilde (Cath Harkins), then coming home to his wife Margaret (Angela Green) and their gathered family. His subjective voice, via his memoirs (Inside the Third Reich and Spandau: The Secret Diaries), becomes counterpointed by direct-to-audience comments from others.

As he basks in the roles of media target and (mostly) respected father, his positive human qualities are further enhanced with insights into the part his rich imagination played in keeping him sane, while incarcerated with Rudolf Hess (Malcolm Murray). It is only when his architect colleague Rudolf Wolters (*Kevin Keys) challenges his selective memories that Speer starts to unravel.

A dreamed visitation from Hitler demanding to know why his widely expressed and explicit statements of hatred for Jews and others were not taken literally cracks Speer’s conscience and adds a further nail to the coffin of his credibility. The final words go to Himmler (Brian Hotter), who revealed his "unequivocal solution" to party colleagues on 6 October 1943.

In the end the play’s purpose is not so much to determine whether or not Speer was still there, heard that speech and therefore knew, as to ask its audience how they would have responded if they had been there, and to compare Speer’s moral position with those that confront them every day in their private and public lives.

Dressed in pristine white suit, shirt, ties, socks and shoes, a relaxed McLaughlin delivers a personable and very real Speer that appropriately requires his audience to step beyond subjective feeling and confront the greater implications of his story.

William Walker’s charismatic Adolf Hitler is also all-too-human in repose, with riveting moments that capture the gimlet-eyed, tunnel-visioned, uncompromising psychopath and demand our empathy with the person held in his gaze.

All the other actors so far mentioned give vivid accounts of their allotted characters, as do Amy Tarleton, Heather O’Carroll, James Sutherland, Michael Ness, David McKenzie, James Stewart and Simon Smith. It is a mark of university lecturer David O’Donnell’s great skill with large casts, and the aligning scholarship of his dramaturg colleague Bronwyn Tweddle, that individual and ensemble work combine to deliver a seamless, dynamic and subtly compelling evocation of flawed humanity in an historical context that we ignore at our peril.



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