Play by Ronald Harwood. Prized by Hitler as the cultural jewel in the crown of the Third Reich, the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler became the perfect post-war target for interrogation as a Nazi sympathiser. Now, in 1946, Major Steve Arnold, who has witnessed the horrors of Belsen, is about to interrogate the conductor.
Original London West End Production - 1995
Previewed 29 June 1995, Opened 3 July 1995, Closed 9 December 1995 at the Criterion Theatre
The cast featured Daniel Massey as 'Wilhelm Furtwängler' and Michael Pennington as 'Major Steve Arnold' with Suzanne Bertish as 'Tamara Sachs', Gawn Grainger as 'Helmuth Rode', Geno Lechner as 'Emmi Straube' and Christopher Simon as 'Lieutenant David Wills'. Directed by Harold Pinter with sets by Eileen Diss, costumes by Tom Rand, lighting by Mick Hughes and sound by Tom Lishman. A transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre's Minerva Studio.
"Major Arnold, a vindictive Philistine who in private life is an insurance claims assessor, is investigating whether the maestro, Wilhelm Furtwängler, should come before a de-nazification tribunal. Furtwängler, for his part, initially argues that art must be kept separate from politics. Eventually he admits his naivete, but he shifts his ground to claim that he was trying 'to defend the intellectual life of my people against an evil ideology'. Harwood strives to present both sides of the argument: the American's revulsion against the privileged claims of the artist versus the conductor's idealistic belief in the transforming power of art. But what prevents a good play from being an even better one is Harwood's portrayal of the American major as a coarse vulgarian... It is directed with iron precision by Harold Pinter and quite superlatively acted. Michael Pennington as the major has the difficult task of reconciling us to a man prepared to use every dirty trick in the book, but when he delivers his final indictment he persuades us that there is moral substance to him. Daniel Massey is also deeply moving as Furtwangler, mar-vellously suggesting that behind the passion for music lurks a guilty awareness of the man's complicity with a mon-strous tyranny. Gawn Grainger as a collaborative violinist and Suzanne Bertish as an impassioned defender of the maestro also lend weight to a play that acts as a powerful metaphor for the present and all those post-authoritarian societies busy ransacking their pasts." The Guardian
"The play extends to become a debate about the uses of art itself, and often a passionate, eloquent one. But there is a problem, which is that the case against Daniel Massey's stricken Furtwangler is put by a philistine whom even Michael Pennington cannot save from caricature... Arnold is crude, coarse, chippy and (ironically enough) prepared to use near-Nazi techniques to 'nail the bastard' in defiance of the evidence; yet he is supposed to be largely motivated by his disgust at Belsen... Harold Pinter's production is full of good supporting performances, notably from Gawn Grainger as Uriah Heep, Nazi-style; and Massey is extraordinary. His preposterous wig, bunched face and ill-fitting clothes may suggest a Frog Footman on his day out, but beneath that there is genuine authority and beneath that a terrible bewilderment. Looking at this intense figure, trying to make sense of it all, you cannot miss the play's final question. If you haven't been there yourself, how can you judge?" The Times
"Hero or heel? Man of courage or coward? The baton of suspicion is pointed at German conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, who stayed put instead of fleeing the jackboot. The maestro has to face the music in Taking Sides, Ronald Harwood's riveting new play. His brutal interrogation is conducted in occupied Berlin after the war by an American officer whose hatred of Beethoven is exceeded only by his hatred of Nazi collaborators. It is a fascinating confrontation, with sympathies switching as often as the symphonies blaring out from a record-player in the background. Michael Pennington is superb as the philistine major with a mission to throw as much mud as it takes to stick a sympathiser charge on the frail Furtwangler. Daniel Massey gives a towering performance as the haunted genius struggling to explain how he managed to stay on the right side of Hitler while refusing to become a member of the party. Taking Sides is anything but easy, but it makes for a thought-provoking night out." The Daily Mirror
Taking Sides in London at the Criterion Theatre previewed from 29 June 1995, opened on 3 July 1995 and closed on 9 December 1995
1st London West End Revival - 2009
Previewed 22 May 2009, Opened 27 May 2009, Closed 29 August 2009 at the Duchess Theatre
Performed in repertory with Ronald Harwood's new play Collaboration. Written as companion pieces, separate plays designed to complement each other, both plays explore the fine line between collaboration and betrayal during the Second World War. Transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre's Minerva Theatre.
The cast features Michael Pennington as 'Wilhelm Furtwängler' and David Horovitch as 'Major Steve Arnold' with Melanie Jessop as 'Tamara Sachs', Pip Donaghy as 'Helmuth Rode', Sophie Roberts as 'Emmi Straube' and Martin Hutson as 'Lieutenant David Wills'. Directed by Philip Franks with designs by Simon Higlett, lighting by Mark Jonathan, music by Matthew Scott and sound by John Leonard.
Michael Pennington's West End credits include Ferenc Molnar's The Guardsman (Noel Coward Theatre 2000). David Horovitch's London theatre credits include Sue Townsend's The Queen and I (Vaudeville Theatre 1994).
"Taking Sides, Harwood's earlier, punchier piece, has the cut and thrust of a courtroom drama, and also the bonus of more music, a blast of Beethoven's Egmont and Bruckner's Seventh. Set in post-war Berlin, Horovitch is superb as Major Steve Arnold, a tough, philistine American haunted by what he saw when he was sent to liberate the Belsen concentration camp. With intentional insolence, he refers to Wilhelm Furtwangler, regarded as the greatest conductor of the time, as 'the band leader', and is determined to expose him as a Nazi stooge. Pennington's haughty Furtwangler is as enchanted with himself as everyone else is, except the major, who accuses him of staying in Germany because he can't bear to be usurped by the young pretender, Herbert von Karajan. While Furtwangler insists that through music he could promote humanity and justice in the terrible place that was Hitler's Germany, and that he also helped rescue hundreds of Jews, the major suggests the conductor was part of the Nazi propaganda machine that maintained Germans were the best at music. 'What would you have done in my shoes?' the composer asks at the end, rattled for the first time. God only knows, but Harwood makes you think hard about it." The Mail on Sunday
"The Harwoods - as this double bill is being referred to at Chichester - are economically directed by Philip Franks and prove a marvellous showcase for the virtuosity and range of Pennington and Horovitch... If the day belonged to anyone, however, it was Harwood. Here is a playwright who does not himself take sides but leaves it to his audiences to decide whether his characters are good or bad. Such respect for theatre-goers these days is a rare and wonderful thing." The Sunday Telegraph
"Michael Pennington's Furtwängler is very much the distinguished Herr Doktor, clutching his little homburg hat on his lap, grimacing with aesthetic distress and looking stiffly about him at the shabby, bomb-damaged room. His interrogator is an unlovely and uncultured American, Major Steve Arnold, played by David Horovitch looking a bit like Gene Hackman. He couldn't care less about music, calls everyone 'shithead', saw Belsen only two days after it was liberated and is determined to hold the aged conductor somehow personally responsible. Minor characters include the more sensitive Lieutenant Wills, who likes Beethoven, and Emmi Straube, a secretary whose father was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. But it is essentially a long dialogue between Arnold and Furtwängler, and this is the problem. If you are going to produce a debate play that is almost entirely static, composed of dialogue between two principal characters seated in the same room for more than two hours, you really need to make sure the dialogue fizzes and sparkles with a Shavian energy. And it doesn't. Instead, Taking Sides plods along as earnestly as a short-sighted scoutmaster, worthy and thoughtful, but hopelessly undramatic." The Sunday Times
Taking Sides in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 22 May 2009, opened on 27 May 2009 and closed on 29 August 2009 - played in repertory with Collaboration).