The Oxford German Society’s production of Killing Hitler exposes the key role of Oxford Alumnus Adam von Trott (played by Linus Ubl) in the July Plot to assassinate the ‘Monster’. The attempted plot may have been unsuccessful in 1944, but in 2015, Chris Jacobi and Benjamin Schaper’s dramatic version was sterling.
The night began with introductory presentations by the play’s author, Bernard Adams, Adam von Trott’s daughter, Verena von Trott, and Graham Avery, the president of the von Trott Memorial Funds. Combined, these presentations allowed a historical, emotional and political context to be developed before the play itself. This reinforced from the outset Killing Hitler’s grounding in reality, somewhat hauntingly so: Adam Von Trott did enjoy walking over Magdalen Bridge and was hanged by the Nazis.
Killing Hitler is an ambitious piece of bilingual theatre, jumping between both Germany and England, and thus different languages (the German sections necessitating English subtitles) as well as between two time frames, the 1940s and 1970s. Director Poppy Clifford should take great pride in the result of this production. The skilful use of both German and English helped to expose the duality of Adam Von Trott: a man both capable of joking whimsically about tea in Oxford and also one tortured by his identity as a German patriot during the Nazi Regime. The convincing delivery of this complex character for the duration of the play by Linus Ubl was some feat and worthy of high accolade.
The effective use of lighting and sound (designed by Samuel Littley and Stephen Bradshaw respectively) throughout should also be commended. Be it bombs or Beethoven the sound acted not only to deepen each scene, but also to allow the audience to keep up with the many temporal and geographical changes throughout the play. Similarly, the lighting was used to isolate Hans Lohmann (Edouard Gottileb) brilliantly when he was interviewed by Petra Schmidt (Hannah Gerlach). This interview was set in the 1970s and acted as an effective foil for the rest of the play. It helped to explain wider German attitudes towards Naziism and the July Plot. The interview scenes also added welcome, and well delivered, humorous respite: ‘you don’t mind me singing? I’ve been told I have a good voice.’
The only grey-lining of this silver cloud of a play was the performers’ use of the stage in the second half. Too frequently they would inadvertently block the audience’s sight of the subtitle screen behind them. Large chunks of dialogue were thus unfortunately lost to non-German speakers. However, this was likely nothing more than a relatively minor opening night blip to be easily rectified for future performances.
Killing Hitler ends with Clarita Von Trott (Chloe Cheung) poignantly reflecting that ‘Tomorrow will be a new day, an all together different day.’ The brilliance of the play on opening night instead leads me to hope that future performances will be all together similar nights. Killing Hitler is deserving of large audiences, filled with both German and non-German speaking spectators, due to its excellence as a play and relevance to Oxford. Check it out.
Killing Hitler can be seen at Nuffield College until Saturday 16th May, performed at 7.45pm (Saturday showing at 2pm).