Robyn Nevin – Directed by Neil Armfield
costume designed by Dale Ferguson – Lighting Design by Nigel Levings
designed by Jane Rossetto – Composer Alan John – Cellist Catherine Finnis
John Frost for The Gordon Frost Organisation.
Theatre Centre – May 11 – 16, 2021.
Pomsel was 106 years old when she died on January 27, 2017.
her great age, her life might have been comparatively unremarkable had she
lived at another time in history. But when, at the age of 102, she entrusted her
story to a team of documentary film makers, there emerged a tale of resilience
and survival so compelling that playwright Christopher Hampton was inspired to
turn it into a stage play.
In doing so Hampton
has provided Robyn Nevin with a role which could be the crowning achievement of
her long and distinguished career.
In an acting
career spanning nearly 60 years Nevin has left a trail of remarkable stage
characterisations in her wake. Her Miss
Docker in “A Cheery Soul”; her Maria Callas in “Master Class”; her Joan Dideon
in “A Year of Magical Thinking”; are
recalled with relish by those lucky enough to have experienced them and are now
part of Australia’s theatrical history.
Pomsel is another of those creations. Pomsel was a dab hand at shorthand and a
survivor. Her shorthand skills led to a series of secretarial jobs. Some were
with persecuted Jewish business owners. She worked for the German Broadcasting
Corporation, and eventually, and most significantly, as a secretary to Joseph
Goebbels, the Nazi Minister for Propaganda.
survivor, Pomsel kept her head down, becoming one of the last actively involved
witnesses to the rise, fall and aftermath of the Third Reich. Her war ended
when she emerged from the rubble near Hitler’s bunker waving a white pillowcase
to the approaching Russian soldiers in 1945.
questioned many years later by the documentary makers, she chose not to think
too hard about what was going on, claimed youthful ignorance at the atrocities
of the regime, preferring to focus on her own life. And when you hear her story, transformed by
Hampton from the transcripts of her interviews into an absorbing narrative, few
would blame her.
|Dale Ferguson's setting for "A German Life"
audience enters the theatre it is greeted by Dale Ferguson’s substantial, superbly
detailed setting; a pleasant, sparsely furnished room which could be the Munich
nursing home room in which Pomsel eventually died.
Catherine Finnis, sits to one side of this room softly playing an atmospheric
soundscape, composed by Alan John, which incorporates the sounds of ambulance
and air-raid sirens to accompany unnerving newsreel images to haunt Pomsel and re-immerge
as unwanted memories which suddenly flood her mind.
moment she enters this room, a frail, bent-over figure, her straight white hair
roughly secured with a large bobby pin, Nevin is Brunhilde Pomsel.
For the next
90 minutes, speaking in a softly accented voice, she holds her audience
enthralled as she recalls details of her life.
fact, obviously resigned to her situation, Pomsel tells her tale in a
deliberate precise stream of consciousness. Pausing occasionally to refresh her
teacup, gaze out her window, or examine the lone photograph in her room, as she
rakes her mind for elusive details. She remonstrates herself and apologises for
not remembering, but occasionally an unwanted memory stops her in her tracks and
she falters and fights the emotion.
Despite the stern
countenance she presents to the world, Pomsel proves surprisingly likable, with
a cheeky turn of phrase hinting at a sense of humour and determination that may
have been the secret of her survival.
avoiding any obvious displays of virtuosity, Nevin’s fascinatingly detailed
performance is a masterclass in restraint yet dazzling in its complexity.
As we have come to expect from John Frost, the
production is impeccable. Neil Armfield’s direction is subtle, as are the
lighting and sound design by Nigel Levings and Jane Rossetto. Everything is at the service of Nevins
Images by Andrew Beveridge
This review also appears in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW. www.artsreview.com.au