Last week’s student production of Ariane Mnouchkine’s play Mephisto (in a translation by Timberlake Wertenbaker) will have come as a surprise to those such as myself who know only the film of the same name.

Though both are based on Klaus Mann’s 1936 roman à clef (also Mephisto) the play is far less focused, in the way Istvan Szabo’s film was, on the shaming compromise with the Nazis that secured the fame and fortune of Gustav Gründgens, Mann’s one-time best friend and husband of his sister Erica.

Instead, the rise of Gründgens, who is renamed Hendrik Höfgen, is only a part — albeit a prominent part — of a panoramic story that takes in the activities, both artistic and amorous, of a wide variety of politically driven actors at work at Hamburg as the Nazi era dawned.

The ensemble piece, featuring 17 performers and an on-stage band, admittedly demanded close concentration from the audience in the matter of who was who. But the effort was repaid in a production, under director Milja Fenger, that was affecting and instructive. Occasionally it was comic, too, in its gleeful presentation of the agitprop pieces staged by the thesps.

The many fine performances included those of Nick Howard-Brown (above), as Höfgen, and Lloyd Houston as both a suitably patrician Thomas Mann and a working-class apprentice, Hans Miklas, who falls an easy victim to the Nazi poison.