The Watermill Theatre and touring, April-May 2004.
When the mysterious Mr. and Mrs. Schultz - Michael Strobel and Nicola Delaney - arrive at the Argentinean safe house run by Hanna (Emily Wood) in 1946, after fleeing war-ravaged Germany and the ensuing Nuremberg trials, the scene is set for an intriguing drama. Cleverly written and well researched by Alex Jones, he gives the cast a plausible script with which to create a series of graphic images, including the desperation of Nazis fleeing the consequences of their own actions. The once all-powerful warmongers are now reduced to cowering in hilltop villages in foreign lands, afraid of strangers. Always close to the surface is the Holocaust - the convincingly simple explanation by Mr. Schultz of why it happened, juxtaposed by its monumental effect on their lives. But this drama has twists and it develops in the second half into a cracking piece of theatre. Strobel is superb, achieving an intimidating menace similar to Marlon Brando's 'Godfather'. Delaney's faithful blonde bimbo who wants to forget the past is splendid. Wood as Hanna is outstanding, especially in her soliloquy, which transfixed the audience. The first-rate set, lighting and production deserve a mention, for they play a part in this all-round impressive drama. Go and see it if you can. - Alan Bowler
Post 1944 the perpetrators of Nazi crimes against humanity found themselves fleeing Germany to safe homes is many foreign countries, where they could avoid recognition and possible retribution. We find ourselves in one such remote home near an Argentinean village where Hanna (Emily Wood) awaits the arrival of the latest couple to pass through her hands to safety. Oscar Schultz (Michael Strobel) claims that he was an ex-SS Officer at Auschwitz, an obvious target for those seeking revenge. His dizzy wife Lotte (Nicola Delaney), keener on her personal appearance than the need to remain concealed, sees learning Spanish as the way to avoid recognition. But of course things are seldom what they seem. Could there possibly be a link between this couple and a certain charismatic leader? Alex Jones' powerful psychological thriller takes many twists and turns before its final disturbing denouement. - Barrie Theobald
Don't spy for me - A chilling revenge tragedy set in post Second World War Argentina, is set to ask timely questions about personal responsibility during wartime, at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon. Mr. And Mrs. Schultz, which opens at the venue in Dingwall Road on May 19 and runs until June 6, is set in a remote hilltop village where a woman takes in two Germans who are escaping the aftermath of the Nazi defeat. Sympathetic to their cause, their host Hanna provides safety for the enigmatic yet disillusioned couple. However, when Jewish spies in the village begin to ask questions, Hanna is forced to wonder exactly who she has given refuge to. A disturbing story unfolds and the past tightens its grip on the fugitive present. Written by acclaimed playwright Alex Jones and produced by the increasingly successful Watermill Theatre, Mr. and Mrs. Schultz is not only a riveting thriller, but also a fascinating study of wartime attitudes. The play poses extraordinary questions of personal versus political responsibility, asking at what level we should intervene to stop bloodshed and war - questions as relevant today as ever. - Christine van Ernst
Whatsonstage.com - Audience comments and star rating - Five Stars:
This was never going to be an easy play to watch, and I always thought that the play would be emotive. Trying to even begin to come to terms with the horror of the Nazi regime is something people may never do, whether they have lived through it or not. Even the most recent genocide in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda the subject is still treated with a contempt and silence. So to ask the question what if the culprit of the holocaust is alive, what would you do? This play asks questions about our own humanity, it asks as Conrad did in 'The Heart of Darkness'... of the horror... and to what levels would we sink to avenge it? What the writer and cast have done is a very brave attempt to reproach a subject that we are really only beginning to come to terms with. Thankfully we all live in changing times where freedom, democracy and humanity are the new order and those who tread on the rights of others do so at their own peril. I think this play will live in the mind of all those who see it, if not only as a powerful reminder to those of man's inhumanity to man. Personally I would recommend anybody to and watch this play; it is expertly acted and chilling to the core.
Five Stars Shocking! (in the best sense of the word). A gripping foray into the horrors of the war.
Five Stars Really truly one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I have ever seen. Quite, quite stunning.
Five Stars I took my daughter to see this for her birthday treat and she rated it as one of the best things she'd seen at the Watermill, which is really saying something! It was a stunning, very moving evening. All three performances were excellent, and it's certainly a play to talk about and think about. I'm sure that we "Home County" audiences can take this sort of production - its hardly Titus Andronicus! And we are fortunate to live in Newbury and have this wonderful Theatre, which allows us to see such innovative productions!
Newbury Weekly News:
This fictional story of what happens to Mr. and Mrs. Schultz, a German couple escaping to Argentina in the aftermath of the Second World War is well written, well acted, well lit and well directed by Ade Morris. To sit through it is an appallingly dark, sickening experience. In a recent interview playwright Alex Jones said that he wanted to make people think about the terrible things which still take place all over the world, to ensure that lessons are learnt from history. This is not the way to do it. The minds of those who watch his play will be confused by the excessive, relentless violence, not of action, but by the too vivid descriptions of the tortures inflicted by Mengele, the 'Angel of Death' of Auschwitz. For those people whose families were directly affected by war it will be a too painful reminder of that which they cannot forget but have to suppress in order to get on with everyday life. The evening is one of contrasts - the blonde Aryan Lotte Schultz (Nicola Delaney), a woman of simple pleasures hero- worshipping her husband Oscar (Michael Strobel) who finds her irritating - and their dark, ever-helpful landlady Hanna Richter (Emily Wood), still a professed fanatical admirer of the Fuehrer. All three actors bring a chilling realism to their roles, with Emily Wood giving an outstanding performance as she cossets the ailing Mr. Schultz. Lawrence Doyle's lighting enhancing the simple bedroom set was so sympathetic it almost became another character. The first half of the play has all the intrigue of an Agatha Christie thriller and during the interval the talk was of deciding what the twist, for twist there undoubtedly was, would be. I will not reveal the answer. It is sufficient to say that there comes a point in the second half when the 'thriller' atmosphere changes and the nightmare begins. I seriously question the decision to take this play on tour of the villages. I am not an upholder of the nanny state, but Jones' aim to inspire people to learn lessons from history and the excellent Watermill's laudable wish to interest people in theatre will not be served by inflicting horrifying explicit descriptions of torture on those who have bought tickets to support a village function. A few people walked out of the theatre last Wednesday. I do not blame them. I still feel tainted by what I saw that evening but, most hideous of all, is the fact that the terrible tortures described so explicitly all took place. This does not mean that they should be paraded in the name of entertainment. - Caroline Franklin
Newbury Theatre editorial comment:
I would not normally comment on another review, but the Newbury Weekly News review above is so strongly worded that I feel some further comment is needed. There were times during Act 1 where I felt uneasy about the message that seemed to be coming across. There were times during Act 2 where I felt uneasy about the violence. The emphasis in Act 2 on retribution - the application of Mosaic law rather than Jesus' doctrine of forgiveness - is unsettling ("an eye for an eye" is very appropriate here). But "those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it"; we see more and more examples of this nowadays. To me, the immediacy of this play brought home the horrors of what happened in the past, and the message that we must not repeat them, in a way that that television documentaries don't (the only comparable experience I've had recently was a visit to Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam). The Watermill are brave to tour this production; I agree with the NWN that it will not be universally well received in the village halls. I have been to village hall productions of other Watermill tours and been surprised at the reactionary response to some of them. But nevertheless, do go and see it, when it comes to a hall near you, but go with an open mind. - Paul Shave
Letter in the Newbury Weekly News:
Touring theatre is what villages want - Contrary to the views recently expressed in your arts pages review, the current production of the Watermill On Tour is just what the villages want. Rural living does not always mean being a reactionary traditionalist. Recently, Mr. and Mrs. Schultz came to Brimpton. The distinctive Watermill Theatre van arrived mid-afternoon and magically transformed the village hall into a vibrant theatre. By 7.30 the auditorium was completely full and, in the same professional manner with which they had built their set, the actors started to unfold this compelling drama. We watched the arrival of the mysterious German couple in Argentina move increasing familiarity with their enigmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Richter, through seemingly sympathetic racialist outburst, coupled with overt sexual overtures. As the true identity of Mr. and Mrs. Schultz became more apparent, Mrs. Richter in a style reminiscent of Jean in Strindberg’s Miss Julie shifted the master/servant balance of power to herself. Nobody watching the ensuing acts of revenge and retribution as Mrs. Richter revealed her true identity could fail to draw the obvious parallels with the current shocking exposures in the news of similar acts of violence and revenge. It was, indeed, a very moving experience and closed to appreciative applause. Two hours later the theatre had been miraculously folded back into its van, the truly professional and amiable actors and crew had departed, and Brimpton Village Hall returned to its ordinariness – but this had been no ordinary experience that had been witnessed there. - Brenda Harding. Brimpton
The Ticket & All About Jewish Theatre & What's on Stage Review:
After World War Two, an unknown number of senior Nazis escaped Europe and the Nuremberg Trials to assume new identities in South America, mainly in Argentina. A vast secret network gave them shelter in a succession of safe houses until the coast was clear to start a new life. Alex Jones’ harrowing new play takes place in one of these Argentinean safe houses, where ‘Mr. and Mrs. Schultz’ have taken refuge with Hanna Richter, who wears her Nazi sympathies on her sleeve. That’s the set up for an evening of tension, mounting to an almost unbearable and protracted denouement. It’s hard to discuss the play without giving away the plot, and I wouldn’t want any prospective audience member to experience it knowing much more than I did. Suffice to say the clues are there for those who can read them, starting with the opening music, a Yiddish folk song 'Donna', contrasting the predicament of a calf bound for slaughter and a swallow flying free in the sky. Three powerful performances and Ade Morris’s well-orchestrated production concentrate the attention, despite the length of the evening. Michael Strobel’s Oscar Schulz takes us on a chilling journey to the heart of a man who shows compassion to animals in a slaughterhouse and refuses to eat meat, while sanctioning and rejoicing in the murder of six million human souls. This complex character has the sort of attitude to smoking that the contemporary pro-smoking lobby calls fascist, while harbouring sexual proclivities, which would almost brand him a paedophile. Nicola Delaney makes the devoted wife, Lotte Schultz sympathetic and believable. She skilfully assumes the persona of the apparently fluffy airhead hiding the damage behind a cheerful, brittle front. Emily Wood has perhaps the most difficult task - and journey - every evening. Her enigmatic intelligence and Hanna's ardour for the Nazi cause hide a secret which provides a climax so shocking and so graphic that it was too much for some audience members on press night. In a programme note, Jones declares that history is an important teacher. He refers to the lessons we can learn from the holocaust. It seems from subsequent events in the Balkans and in Rwanda, that we are poor students. It’s theatre’s job to reinforce the lesson, and maybe British audiences need to confront these horrors. But I question whether such an unrelenting onslaught is the most effective way. - Judi Herman
Theatre World Magazine:
A noted Berliner's long last twisted tango - To do a full review on Mr. & Mrs. Schultz, Alex Jones's interesting new play presented and toured by the Watermill and the Warehouse would be difficult as it would ruin the plot entirely, so my duties to you as reviewer are inevitably handicapped, lest you take the train from London Victoria to Croydon to see it. Jones' new work draws on the fascination we mortals have with the conspiracy theory, specifically one of the great immediate post war "What ifs?" Set in a little village in 1946 Argentina, Libby Watson's appealing set welcomes us to a simple homely and warm little room in some remote farmhouse. The sophisticated, but dowdy looking Hanna, played by Toni Midlane, is preparing the bed for arrivals. At first sight, Mr. and Mrs. Schultz are nothing more than routine travellers, Schultz, the adept and characterful Michael Strobel, is a gruff business like and practical German, his wife, Lotte, is a whimsical, attractive, but irritating and shallow prissy little thing played by Nicola Delaney. It is clear however that Schultz has much to hide and Hanna is part of a greater network of exiled Germans whose sole purpose is to secrete and hide fleeing criminals of the former Nazi regime. Hanna is a loyal and devout Nazi, and Toni Midlane's portrayal of this clinical and cold obsequious character seems a detailed semblance of what in reality must have been a particularly cold and unpleasant aspect of Germany's past: her continued allegiance to Adolph Hitler is greeted by Schultz with immediate rebuttal as a man in denial seeking to eradicate this sordid episode in history from his memory. A fiercely proud widow of an SS soldier and a medical assistant at Auschwitz, Hanna persists with her pro-Third Reich outbursts and berates Schultz for his defeatist attitude. The defiant and the intellect in Hanna, in stark contrast to the idiotic wife, strikes a chord with Schultz and it becomes clear that he has more than just a passing interest in his landlady with the inevitable consequences and ultimate bizarre and harrowing outcome... Conspiracy theories rely on some form of believable but logical follow on actual events: Jones's plot, given the constraints of the theatre is plausible, thought provoking and well researched. While both Hanna and Schultz are credible, I found it hard to believe that Lotte, Schultz's wife, who plays a well known real life character would ever have been tolerated by her husband or even entertained by him for so much as a moment if she had behaved in the way she was played. That aside Mr. & Mrs. Schultz makes you consider and consider again one of Jones's main underlying themes, that of basic human rights. While it makes you ponder the past, it makes you ponder the present far more. - Harry Bucknall
An evening with Mr. & Mrs. Schultz promised controversy and certainly didn't disappoint - The story centred around three Germans, who had escaped post-World War Two Germany for the safer haven of Argentina. Oscar Schultz (Michael Strobel) is a former SS officer, in ill health, who arrives with his wife Lotte (Nicola Delaney) at a beautiful mountain retreat hosted by a German ex-pat, and former Auschwitz medic, Hanna Richter (Emily Wood). The opening sequence highlights large differences between the Schultz's; Oscar, the genius mind, thwarted in his pomp and now resigned to a life on the run, compared to the rather dizzy Lotte, trying to make the best of a bad situation, but only succeeding in further irritating her cantankerous husband. Hanna plays the perfect host, but also displays an intelligent and mysterious side that warms her to Oscar, and wedges a deeper divide between himself and Lotte. Strobel commanded the stage through the early scenes, a very strong presence which befitted the role of Oscar Schultz, while Delaney successfully managed to irritate as his blonde "half-wit" of a wife. If the first half was interesting, the second half crackled with an energy created from the rather disturbing subject matter. Alex Jones' bold and daring text really came to life and a powerful performance from Wood, who had been overshadowed in the earlier scenes, made for an intense finale, topped off by a gruesome ending which left the audience audibly shocked. The script benefited from a few revelations, which drastically changed the course of events, and was backed up by the strong cast, especially Strobel whose performance was authoritative and entertaining throughout. My only gripe surrounds the rather unnecessary 'gags' that were thrown in that did attract laughter, but only served to lift the impressive dark mood that had been created in the atmospheric Watermill Theatre. The production was sparse, the whole play being set in the Schultz's bedroom. This was largely due to the increasingly incapacitated, and therefore bed-ridden, Oscar, but also helped you believe that these people were fugitives, living in constant fear of capture. The simplicity of the set allowed the audience to concentrate on the continually changing relationships between the small cast, while digesting rather harrowing discussions of the holocaust. This is a very brave production and in the main was a real success - it shocked, entertained and also gave you a small sense of what World War Two was like through the eyes of Nazi Germany. - R. Spicer