We know the name Ernest Hemingway from his successful novels, ‘A Farewell To Arms’, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘The Sun Also Rises’. We also know that he committed suicide in 1961, but the reasons behind his suicide were vailed in uncertainty. This play written in 1977 by controversial German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, known for his plays ‘The Representative’, ‘The Deputy’ and ‘Soldiers’, attempts to examine the last hours before Hemingway’s death to gain a greater understanding of what was going through his mind in those last hours.
The Finborough Theatre has a knack for delving into theatrical pieces that have remained undiscovered or have rarely been performed. The theatre have resurrected other plays written by Hochhuth including ‘Sommer 14 – A Dance of Death’, ‘Soldiers’ and ‘The Deputy’. The play was produced by Sarah Lawrie for And Tomorrow Theatre Company in association with Neil McPherson of The Finborough Theatre.
During his life, Hemingway created a persona for himself and the hunter, writer, war veteran, war correspondent sometimes struggled to live up to the image he had created. Edmund Dehn takes on the role of Hemingway and leads us into the tempestuous mind of a man never entirely satisfied with his life. Even though the play is set at the end of his life, his agonising over his past, paints a picture of the life of someone who never held back, but threw himself into situations that were sometimes dangerous, and very often involved death, of which he seemed to have a fascination.
Dehn convincingly portrays a man tortured by memories of his father who also committed suicide. His exasperation at not being able to write novels any more must have taken its toll on his mental health, as he appears paranoid when searching his office for bugs whilst rambling on about tax fraud and other things he may be accused of.
Ably directed by Anthony Shrubsall, the set design is a simple one placing Hemingway in his office with his typewriter and dictating machine. This just adds to the melancholy of his situation, having won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Dehn exudes frustration as he paces the office turning over in his mind the situation, he finds himself in. Hemingway seemed to be a man who was never really content with his life. He married four times, each time meeting his new wife while still being married and Dehn touches on the point that Hemingway felt bad about leaving his first wife, but as he mulls this over, he appears to console himself that he was never been without a woman. Hemingway is portrayed as being self-centred and when his livelihood is taken away (i.e. not being able to write for 9 years), his mental health deteriorates.
This production is stripped back so that we are able to focus upon Hemingway’s mental state at the time of his death. The Finborough Theatre produced yet another play that is factually interesting, but also shows that human nature, no matter how flawed, is a part of us all, and no matter how famous or accomplished the celebrity, they have their own insecurities that they grapple with.
This production is no longer available to view, but The Finborough Theatre do have other productions available on their website https://finboroughtheatre.co.uk/production/april-december-2020/ and their plays are also available on the Scenesaver website https://www.scenesaver.co.uk/ (who add subtitles to productions) . When watching one of The Finborough Theatre’s productions, I urge you to consider donating to help this much-loved venue to continue being able to give us top class fringe theatre.
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 7th October 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★