Scenes for the stage adapted by Tom Blackmore from letters exchanged between David & Sylvia Maxwell Fyfe during the trial of
Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg 1945 – 46, the verbatim record of the trial, reports
from newspapers & extracts from ‘The Wishing Doll’, a series of stories written at that time
by David Maxwell Fyfe for his daughter Miranda.
Old Fire Station Theatre
Tue April 4th - Sat April 15th 2006
The figure of David Maxwell Fyfe has faded from public consciousness – his role in the Nuremberg Trials once kept him on the front pages. This play evokes the relationship between Maxwell Fyfe and his wife, Sylvia, set against the background of the trial – expressed mainly through their letters and reportage from the courtroom.
The central couple are excellently portrayed by John Warnaby and Sue Casson: they bring a warmth to the stage. This is particularly strong in their letters – full of genuine emotion and closeness. When they move away from the correspondence, some of that warmth disappears – but the performances are always convincing and frequently moving.
The rest of the characters (ranging from Goering to various newspaper reporters) are shared by Andrew Wincott and Chris Brannick (who also provides piano accompaniment throughout). Between them they encompass the necessary range of accents and personality without resorting to stereotype.
Music is clearly central to the concept of the production – with a mixture of new and period tunes throughout. To my mind, it worked best when the text and music were intertwined – particularly towards the end of the first act when Sylvia is narrating aspects of her life interspersed with songs of the time.
The stage is sensitively designed with plenty of period detailing and ephemera. The use of projection, though occasionally overly literal, served to provide clarity and help the audience identify the various characters. There were occasionally slips in the lighting – understandable given the circumstances of a preview performance
Overall, I was left feeling that the writing was perhaps better suited to radio presentation. The subject matter and style necessitated by the reliance on letters means that it is hard to inject huge amounts of theatricality. This is not to say that the work was not without great merit. It is given a committed and sensitive production. It certainly deserves an audience.
Simon Tavener, 04/04/06
Daily Information - Oxford