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Taking Sides


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A: Ronald Harwood Pf: 1995, Chichester Pb: 1995 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: Major Arnold's office, bombed-out German city (Berlin), 1946 C: 4m, 2fUS Major Steve Arnold is collecting evidence for the Tribunal of Artists of the Denazification Commission. Specifically, he is looking into the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler's relationship with the Nazi regime, aided by a keen young assistant Lieutenant David Wills. Each member of Furtwängler's orchestra insists that he was anti-Hitler, and the wife of a Jewish pianist gives evidence that Furtwängler helped him to escape to Paris. However, Arnold admits that he is not interested in ‘justice, evidence, facts’, but in ‘nailing the bastard’. He aggressively interrogates Furtwängler, who denies any support for the Nazis and merely wished to see that Germany's ‘glorious musical tradition…was intact when we woke from the nightmare’. Arnold is delighted to discover Nazi files on all prominent German musicians, one of which exposes a second violinist Helmuth Rode as a former Nazi informer. Rode confirms Arnold's suspicion that Furtwängler collaborated with the Nazis. Furtwängler is interrogated again at length. He defends himself by stressing the importance of keeping culture alive amidst barbarism: ‘Human beings are free wherever Wagner and Beethoven are played.’ Arnold, who has seen the rotting corpses of Belsen, remains unimpressed, orders Furtwängler to stand trial before the Tribunal, and makes sure that his name is smeared in the American press.

A: Ronald Harwood Pf: 1995, Chichester Pb: 1995 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: Major Arnold's office, bombed-out German city (Berlin), 1946 C: 4m, 2f

Tom Stoppard once said that part of the pleasure of writing plays is that one can contradict oneself in public. As with Klaus Mann's novel Mephisto (1936) about Gustaf Gründgens's relationship with the Nazis, Taking Sides debates the position of the artist within an oppressive totalitarian system. Offering no physical action, concentrated in one room, Harwood's play still offers a totally absorbing experience.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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