A German Life
At The Bridge Theatre
3rd May, 2019
“I had no idea what was going on. Or very little. No more than most people. So you can’t make me feel guilty.”
I read recently that a few years ago Amazon briefly sold out its entire stock of Hannah Arendt’s 500-page treatise, “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” In it, the German-born philosopher surveys the conditions that gave rise to Nazi rule, charting the gradual rise of fascism. Social shifts are slow, sometimes too slow to spot, let alone stop. Liberty gets lost, bit by bit. To arm ourselves against any repetition, we must remain alert to the tell-tale signs. Art can act as an alarm call. Christopher Hampton’s play “A German Life” seems to aim for that.
Christopher Hampton’s play is based on the testimony which Brunhilde Pomsel gave when she finally broke her silence to a group of Austrian filmmakers, shortly before she died in 2017 at the age of 106.
Maggie Smith (84) delivers an extraordinary performance in a compelling 100 minute monologue as Pomsel, whose life spanned the twentieth century. Initially, Pomsel struggled to make ends meet as a secretary in Berlin during the 1930. Her many employers including a Jewish insurance broker, the German Broadcasting Corporation and, eventually, wound up working as a secretary for Joseph Goebbels at the Ministry of Propaganda. Her shorthand skills led her to her secretarial role, rather than any ideological sympathies, or so she says. And therein lies the rub. She was, indeed, an “apolitical youth”; another ordinary German carried along by unstoppable political tide.
Smith and Pomsel become one. Smith’s credible performance combines the knowingness of hindsight with the naivety of youth, casual enough to catch you off-guard when the magnitude of events suddenly cuts through. “Isn’t it funny,” she muses, stroking her silk scarf. “The things you can’t remember and the things you’ll never forget.” Yet, you are never quite sure. Continue reading A German Life