The Story Behind “Taking Sides”

Events in Berlin seventy years ago bring intense drama to the Bolton Little Theatre Stage next week with their production of Ronald Harwood’s award winning play – ‘Taking Sides’.

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The play, which was highly critically acclaimed when it opened in the West End in 1995, looks at the true story of the interrogation of Wilhelm Furtwängler (played by Michael Tatman), at the time one of Germany’s best known musicians  and conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and the suspicion that he had been a Nazi sympathiser during the war. His accuser, Major Steve Arnold (played by Peter Scofield) is convinced that Furtwängler’s protestations hide more than he is revealing and insists on interviewing his staff and musicians in the hope of getting to the truth.

And despite Furtwängler remaining in Germany throughout the horrors of Hitler’s rise and subsequent domination of German ideology, there was a genuine defence in that he had always opposed the unfair treatment of the Jews and Yehudi Menuhin in particular rose to his defence at the time and in later life.

“It’s a compelling story of human frailty, pride and resilience” says director Glenn Robinson, “and one that, even though it took place seventy years ago, could easily be substituted for some of the machinations of contemporary politics and public figures”.

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Michael Tatman, who plays Furtwängler, has his own take on the great man, having researched his recorded work (and particularly Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony which was recorded in 1942 in Berlin at the height of the war) in the process making contact with the daughter of Hermann Scherchen, who had also been a prominent conductor at the time (but who left Germany in the 30s in protest at the Nazi regime and spent the war years in Switzerland).

“Myriam has sent me significant resource material from which I have gained many insights into the character I’m playing” says Michael  who has been able to uncover the only known video recording of an entire work conducted by the composer. “I was hypnotised, and at the end, sitting at home by my screen, whooped with joy and wiped a tear at the sheer artistry of the man”. Representing this at Bolton Little Theatre, Michael admits, is a little humbling. “I wonder if we’ll ever really know the truth”, comments Michael, “although having played him during rehearsals now for several weeks, I know which side I take.”

So was Furtwängler naïve or complicit? For now it remains for the Bolton public to decide…

‘Taking Sides’ runs from 7th to 14th May at the Hanover Street venue. Call 01204 524469 for tickets.