This revived 1931 German satire has to set a record for time taken to get to the actual point. It’s not until way into the second half of Adrian Noble’s fitfully enjoyable production that Antony Sher’s gregarious jailbird Wilhelm Voigt finally acquires an officer’s uniform, which enables him to cause low-level anarchy in the titular Berlin suburb by masquerading as an army captain.
Set in 1910, Carl Zuckmayer’s rambling comedy sends up the institutionalisation of a German society that would unquestioningly obey a man in uniform but virtually deny the existence of a civilian who, like Voigt, lacks the correct identification papers.
Whether or not this really would have been the case in the Kaiser’s day – and it is based upon a real incident – Zuckmayer was clearly using recent history to pointedly send up the mentality that would soon see Germany embrace Hitler and pals.
But despite some funny lines and flashes of brilliance, Ron Hutchinson’s translation and Noble’s production are far too indulgent of the source material. Drilled ruthlessly into shape, this could have been something really quite special. Instead, we get a rather flabby succession of absurdist scenes that build little in the way of momentum as Voigt – whose motives remain bafflingly inconsistent – ambles around Anthony Ward’s beautiful cubist Berlin, alternately robbing people and getting self-righteous about social justice.
Sher puts in a hammily enjoyable performance as the wide-eyed, phlegm-voiced Voigt and Noble pleasingly doffs his cap to ‘Monty Python’ in a production that boasts several moments of laugh-out-loud absurdity. But none of it really makes up for this 'Captain’s lack of discipline. Andrzej Lukowski