Review: Taking Sides (Chicken Coop Theatre in assoc. with Stage Centre Productions)

Raw and intensely thought-provoking, Taking Sides is playing at Toronto’s Al Green Theatre

What happens when good men do nothing, especially while stuck behind enemy lines? It’s a moral dilemma come to life in Chicken Coop Theatre‘s Taking Sides written by Ronald Harwood.

Taking Sides is a powerful story of a German conductor under review and scrutiny in the aftermath of the Second World War. Though he publicly opposed them, his favor among the Third Reich garnered him suspicion as a co-conspirator.

Wilhelm Furtwangler was revered as one of the best orchestral conductors of all time by musicians and patrons alike, in particular for his interpretations of Beethovan’s symphonies. However, his reputation was marred by his decision to continue conducting in Germany during the Nazi regime and even became a favorite of the Nazi party including Hitler himself.

Furtwangler denied any support of the Nazi party declaring that he remained in Germany in order to preserve the integrity of German music for Germans. He remained open about his anti-Nazi views and refused to give the proper salute, yet despite his intolerance, he remained in Nazi favor. Using his status, he covertly managed to help Jewish musicians escape the Third Reich.

Taking Sides takes place after the war where Furtwangler (Alan Washbrook) has been charged for being a Nazi supporter and is being interrogated by Major Steve Arnold (Tony Rein), a foul-mouthed American military man without sympathy or appreciation for German music or culture.

Throughout the production, Arnold is relentless in unearthing damning evidence to solidify his case despite Furtwangler’s unfaltering faith in his innocence and the protestations from his secretary Emmi Straube (Hanna Peltoniemi-Fam) and Lieutenant David Wills (Holm Bradwell). Going so far as to reveal details of Furtwangler’s love affairs and files gathered by the Nazis to strengthen his case.

As Furtwangler’s resolve thins and cracks under the pressure of interrogation, the question of whether Furtwangler was indeed a Nazi sympathizer becomes secondary. If Furtwangler really did oppose the Nazi party while he worked for them, indulging in love affairs and extravagances, his choice to remain idle while the atrocities played out add to his guilt.

Taking Sides is not an easy play to digest as many layers of moral and ethical dilemmas are revealed. Was Furtwangler really a Nazi supporter? If he wasn’t, was there anything else he could have done, while being in their favor, to help end their atrocities? Watching the performance play out, I wanted to believe in Furtwangler’s innocence, as Washbrook’s performance captured the tortured conductor so well, but the personal details Arnold reveals illuminate a darker side to the conductor that left me wondering.

Rein’s portrayal of Major Arnold captivated me the most — the brash, foul-mouthed American didn’t seem forced, his deliberate mispronunciations of German names a nice touch. What capped it off was his raw intensity during the apex of the interrogation that left me stunned.

My friend Geoff, my guest for the evening, was fairly new to attending theatre, found himself distracted by minor technical flaws in the first act – a purple hued light from above tinted the actors’ heads when they were left of center, and Bradwell’s costume seemed ill-fitting for him — his overcoat appeared to dwarf him while his military uniform was a tad too short. I mentioned that my friend was nitpicking, he agreed.

We did both agree that Peltoniemi-Fam’s portrayal of Straube felt forced in the beginning, but she grew into her role.

Taking Sides is being performed just in time for Holocaust Education Week and is well worth attending for its rawness, intensity, and highlighting of ethical questions.


  • Taking Sides is playing at the Al Green Theatre (750 Spadina Ave.)
  • Show dates are Friday and Saturday, November 8 and 9.
  • Performances are at 8 pm with an extra matinee on Saturday at 2 pm.
  • Tickets are $27.50 for adults and $22.50 for students and seniors.
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 647-831-3980.

Photo of Holm Bradwell, Alan Washbrook, Hanna Peltoniemi-Fam, and Tony Rein by Fabiola Saposniak, provided by the company.