Christopher Walker reviews Nachtland at the Young Vic

Before he became a genocidal maniac and plunged the world into self-destruction, Adolf Hitler was a painter. 

Not a very good one, he really couldn’t paint people and essentially drafted architectural pastiches. Which is why he was rejected by Vienna’s art establishment and went on to another career. If only…

This strange fact is often forgotten and is the premise for Nachtland, a thought-provoking piece at the Young Vic by Berlin’s star playwright Marius Von Mayenburg.

From left, Angus Wright, John Heffernan, Dorothea Myer-Bennett in Nachtland (Picture: Ellie-Kurttz)

It has a lot to say about politics, race and art, and manages to do so without the saccharine lecturing that dominates so many contemporary productions. This is not for those who want simple solutions.

The plot concerns a brother and sister, Philip and Nicola, John Heffernan and the excellent Dorothea Myer-Bennett, who meet to clear out their late father’s house. Up in the attic they come across a small kitsch painting. Strangely menacing and devoid of people. Yes, you guessed it…

The previously disunited siblings suddenly see a unity of purpose, and scramble to sell the work to the highest bidder with the help of Evamaria (Jane Horrocks) an expert on the dictator’s daubings. Apparently, there is quite a market for such things.

From left, Jane Horrocks, John Heffernan, Angus Wright, Jenna Augen, Dorothea Myer-Bennett in Nachtland (Picture: Ellie-Kurttz)

A buyer is found, Kahl, a wealthy admirer of the Fuhrer who unsurprisingly seeks anonymity. He is marvellously dark and wolf-like in the hands of the very talented Angus Wright. A nod also to costume designer Anna Fleischle who clearly knows her neo-Nazi wardrobe.

However, the siblings have to deal with the clowning of Nicola’s husband Fabian, Gunnar Cauthery, and more importantly John’s wife Judith, who just happens to be Jewish.

Jenna Augen plays the role well and doesn’t flinch when heckled by an anti-Israeli audience member.

A thoughtful piece for our times indeed.

Pictured top: Angus Wright in Nachtland at Young Vic (Picture: Ellie Kurttz)

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