Each character is based upon either a real person, or composite (and verbatim) transcripts of several real persons. Abby Mann, the play’s author, was a journalist. In penning Judgement at Nuremberg, he pulled together the lives of separate people and their interaction in such a way as to create figures which are almost grotesquely authentic. These people are not microcosms of some greater whole, they’re not designed to showcase some abiding characteristic or trait – they exist only as real, complicated individuals. Luke Rollason (Oscar Rolfe, the defending lawyer) talks about the weight of their characters upon each of them. The cast sympathise with their homicidal, genocidal characters. So do we.
“Everyone seems like human beings” muses one of the judges, and it’s true, because they were. Seeing this renders the inhuman happenings of Nazi Germany incomprehensible – something which is far harder to accept than our traditional black-and-white, good-and-bad approach. Judgement at Nuremberg’s gift is in showing us that if there was evil, it was (in Arendt’s words) simply banal. As Hannah Bristow (Frau Bertholt, a German widow) put it: “What it boils down to is the humanness of the Germans”. Not their humanity, not any kindness or forgivable error, but their humanness. The fact that we can relate.
Judgement at Nuremberg is an awesome, awful play, and immensely demanding from its cast and crew. The spectre of loss is very present: each role is finessed, but also raw and brutal. It is not possible to forget the demands upon every member of the team. There is no subtle way of honouring its missing protagonist. But the play is dedicated, in every sense of the word, to him.
Judgement at Nuremberg is showing at the Keble O’Reilly theatre until the 9th of November. More information and tickets are available here.