Written by Guy Meredith
Cherry Cookson (director)

The Cast Sir Ian Holm (Dr. Franz Erdmann)
Nathaniel Parker (Captain Steven Langley)
Kenneth Cranham (Quinn)
Susie Brann (Ilse)
Julian Rhind-Tutt (other male characters)

Review of Play
We are in the aftermath of WWII. Germany is defeated and suffers from (as we would say in our modern times) collateral damages. There are no means of transportation, the city of Cologne lies in ruins as well as the other larger cities, too. The people are starving, families have been torn apart, misplaced persons are on the run, the allies are trying to keep things up as good as they can and divide their prey amongst them. They are taking great care to get their reparations. Germany loses the few machines and trains that were left, industrial centres it had, thus throwing the country back for several years to come. The country is unable to support itself. Demounting doesn't just affect the machines, but even more important the brains, too.

This play deals with the topic of brain-drain that took place shortly after May 1945. The best scientists have been "emigrated" to the USA or have been taken more or less voluntarily to Russia in order to work there. Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger are two names that should strike a bell with you when talking about the NASA, crewed spaceflight, the Apollo programme and the scientific use of rockets. They came to the USA as so called PoPs (prisoners of peace) in June 1945 and took over 100 of their colleagues with them. None of them ever went to trial for their work during the Nazi regime: Please don't forget, the basics for the exploration of space can be found in Peenemünde, forced slave labour and the dark history of that first flying bomb called V2 that brought the war right to the doorsteps of London.

Captain Steven Langley (Nathaniel Parker) who is in Germany for the first time has a secret mission. Under the disguise that he's supposed to take care of one certain coal mine and its manager, Dr. Franz Erdmann (Ian Holm), he's trying to convince Erdmann to come the England. Why? Because Dr. Erdmann was a colleague of Wernher von Braun in Peenemünde. He helped to develop the V2 rockets. As Langley gets to learn more about Dr. Erdmann both realize that they've met in London before the war. Erdman was a teacher, Langley was one his students. Erdmann chose to return to Nazi Germany in 1937, because he felt that he as a foreigner would never get the chance to build the rockets with British money. Erdmann feels sorry for the morally wrong use of the V2 rockets and regrets his collaboration with the Nazis. He's not convinced that Langley's mission to bring him back to England is completely for peaceful purposes. Over a few weeks they get to know each other and Langley gets a deeper understanding for his former professor.

Langley himself is a young man with ambitions and with the believe that his superiors would never ever force him or Erdmann to build armed rockets, like a flying A-Bomb. Langley's dreaming of working together for a peaceful use of rockets like space exploration. He falls in love with a mysterious woman, Ilse. As things develop we will get to learn that Ilse is a refugee that's been living with Erdmann for several months now. She wants to get out of Germany in order to leave her past behind her. After a few weeks Erdmann discloses that he's planning to move to the Russian zone to help that devastated area to get on with life. He feels that his help is needed there. He isn't interested in building any kind of rockets any longer. He hands out his notes to Langley in the hope that he will be able to continue with his material.

Erdmann is killed by a British soldier (Quinn) who's been send to watch over Langley and his progress with Erdmann. Better to kill that scientist than to let him work for the Russians. A victory of sorts, but not none that will push England to be a great space nation. Well, the war isn't over yet. And we are left in doubt which kind of rockets Erdmann would have had to build for the British. Langley returns to England, devastated and without Ilse.

Review of Nat's reading
This is a very dense and convincing portrait of the times shortly after WWII and a good reminder of what happened to the few scientists that were left here. Langley is a sort of very naïve Captain who as a young scientist is convinced that his fellow professor will come with him. Nat gets to speak a bit of German (which he does quite well) and he has a very convincing "German" counterpart: Sir Ian Holm. I've been enjoying that interplay between them. The whole cast had to fight with German, especially the role of Ilse (Susie Brann) required a lot of practise. Hats off! Langley himself isn't exactly a strong character, but he has the expertise to get Erdmann to rethink his position. He fails and Nat's interpretation of devastation is heartbreaking. This play is one of the best I've heard, cleverly written, with a real background and a wonderful cast. This could as well have been a good script for an interesting movie.

Unpublished / BBC Radio Four broadcast May 29, 1993

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