With a spoonful of the surrealism from the Collaborators, another of the absurdity in The Physicists and a pinch of Monty Python you have most of the ingredients that make up this new version of Carl Zuckmayer's The Captain of Kopenick, currently in preview at the National Theatre. You could call it a farce if the story wasn't embedded in true events.
The Captain of Kopenick of the title is petty criminal Wilhem Voigt (Antony Sher). In 1906 Berlin the real-life Voigt, posing as a captain of the Prussian guard, commanded a group of soldiers and took over a town hall. He'd been banished from the city on leaving prison owing to his criminal record and claimed he went to the town hall in order to get a passport.
In the play Zuckmayer uses the story of Voigt, who became a bit of a folk hero, to throw a satirical light on German bureaucracy of the time which required papers or a license to do just about everything. It is also a play about identity and exposes the German obsession with authority and uniform.
On the run from the police Voigt, like his real life counterpart, comes into the possession of a captain's uniform and in putting it on realises his position in society is immediately changed. The uniform gives him an identity and power, soldiers follow him without question and the general public blindly do as he says. He bluffs his way into leading a company of soldiers to the Town Hall where he plans to acquire the all important identity papers.
It is a deliciously absurd and farcical play, staged with a Python-esque mix of pizazz, minimalism and brutalist design, single doors rising up through the revolve one minute and whole houses another.
Sher is on fine form as the smiling, charming, affable rogue Voigt. His default position is to steal and lie but every now and again he catches himself, pulls back and does something honest, exposing a trace of human kindness and morality.
If I was going to grumble it is that at this preview stage not all the scenes quite gel and a couple of times it felt like it was rambling. That said my enduring impression is of an interesting and fun bit of theatre. If you liked the aforementioned Collaborators and The Physicists at the Donmar Warehouse then you are probably going to like this.
* If anyone can enlighten me as to the last thing Voigt says, I'd be grateful as neither I or Poly quite caught it.
It's the National and a cast of many so there are loads but here are the direct connections: Robert Demeger and Jason Cheater were both in The Hour, Alan David was in Ready When You Are Mr McGill (which I still haven't managed to see), David Killick was in His Dark Materials, Anthony O'Donnell was in Skyfall and Adrian Schiller was in Richard II.
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