Kenneth Jupp’s new play, Tosca’s Kiss, is well-timed given that this November marks the 60th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials. The concluding production in what has been a superb season at the Orange Tree, it follows Rebecca West, the celebrated journalist, novelist and feminist, on her trip to Nuremberg in 1946 to cover the trials for the Daily Telegraph.
West is, rather unfairly, best known these days for her scandalous ten-year affair with fellow writer H.G. Wells, with whom she fathered a child. And, even though she broke off the relationship in 1923, the stigma of being Wells’ infamous mistress was still with her at Nuremberg. Jupp’s play is not, however, a biographical drama about West but is instead more concerned with those being tried for crimes against humanity and in particular with that of Third Reich economist Hjalmar Schacht.
Schacht was the German financier who brought about the ‘economic miracle’ that ultimately contributed to the success of the Third Reich. He is being prosecuted by fictional young American military lawyer Tom Morton, an idealistic and fragile man who helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp in April 1945. As a result Morton has taken on the Schacht case as a kind of crusade against the evil he witnessed there. Compellingly played by Steven Elder, he is full of zeal and confidence in the play’s opening scenes but by the end, he is an empty shell of his former self, devastated by the way things turn out at Nuremberg. A raw and heart-breaking performance.
Charles Kay plays Schacht with the requisite cold arrogance, delivering an all too persuasive speech in his defense. And as Francis Biddle, the US judge with whom West begins a tentative relationship, David Yelland is also engaging, his character’s charisma obscuring an underlying unlikeability.
Auriol Smith’s production alternates between scenes of West looking back on her time in Nuremberg and scenes of the trials themselves. If there is a problem here it is that Jupp is trying to do too much – West’s relationship with Biddle is underdeveloped and the allusions to her years with Wells are all too brief, and could well have been omitted all together. Julia Watson is very good as West, but in the context of the play, she acts as little more than an impartial guide through the morally murky events of the Schacht trial. The problem is, since you are never given enough information about her, it is hard to understand her sufficiently to trust her judgment. The scenes of the trial are very strongly handled though.
As with other recent productions at the Orange Tree, Sam Dowson’s set is rather cluttered, over flowing with furniture that didn’t strike me as being totally necessary. Too much time was spent on scene changes and messing about with beds. But these small shortcomings are more than made up for by the dramatic tension of the trials and the play’s haunting denouement.