Hess (4 stars)

This article is from 2016


Gripping portrayal of the last Nazi in Spandau Prison

Rudolf Hess was Hitler's deputy who flew to Scotland in 1941 on a one-man peace mission. He was immediately imprisoned, first in Britain, then after the war in Berlin's Spandau prison, where he spent the rest of his life. Michael Burrell's one-man play wonders what Hess might have said to an audience from prison.

Hess was the last of the Nazi prisoners in Spandau to die, but Derek Crawford Munn's tour-de-force performance brings him back to problematic life. Hess contained a rare contradiction: a dedicated Nazi, he longed for victory without the horror of war, leading to his ill-considered attempt at diplomacy.

The actor plays the war leader with gentle force and exacting bite. Munn prowls the stage with unnerving intensity, furiously gesticulating as he riffs on Nazi policy, but condemns the 'filthy activity' of war. There is the odd moment of light relief: imprisoned in Scotland, Hess reads The Telegraph which is 'a bit too broad-minded', but Munn's powerhouse delivery is impressive. When Hess gets frustrated about his future, about not seeing his family grow older, his rage is vivid and terrifying.

There are small stylistic touches (director Kim Kinnie bathes the stage in red light as Hess forms Nazi salutes) but Hess is forcefully and simply propelled by Burrell's careful dialogue and Munn's truly gripping performance. There are moments of empathy, but these serve to make his situation pitiful, rather than sympathetic. Justifying himself until the end, Hess argues against his jailers: 'no one has ever taken a life so slowly as you have taken mine'. Unsettlingly human, this Hess embodies the banality of evil.

Gilded Balloon Teviot, until 29 Aug (not 23), 3pm, £10–£12 (£9–£11).


  • 4 stars

The Gilded Balloon / Kinbur Productions The Gilded Balloon and Kinbur Productions are to revive the full-length version of Michael Burrell’s award winning one-man play, HESS, a poignant and haunting production that has stimulated, moved and provoked debate, whilst also giving a fascinating insight into the nature of evil…