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
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
at The Bridge Theatre
26th, January 2018
“As I love the name of honour more than I fear death.”
I fondly remember an all-black version by the RSC in 2012 but wow, was I pumped up as we entered the Bridge Theatre auditorium. The charged rendition of “ Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by Oasis, Survivor’s “ Eye of The Tiger “, during which, David Morrissey appears in character with ‘Mark Antony’ emblazoned on the back of a sports robe, to egg on the crowd was electric; and more still with the “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes! I wasn’t sure whether I was in the wrong venue, but this is orchestrated mob rallying. It is a soundscape springboard through tyranny, conspiracy and tragedy. It is a reminder that we are the populace who reside amidst the unchanging nature of politics.
In demonstration of the new theatre’s versatility, the theatre has been reconfigured in-the-round with the action playing out on a central platform as well as in the surrounding pit. Promenade tickets are available for those who want to get up close to the action. Though seated in the front row of the auditorium, we were still complicit in the events.
As you may have guessed, Hytner’s production is reimagined for the era of post-truth populism; it’s in modern dress, and the parallels with certain current world leaders are evident. But there’s no fiasco as there was earlier last year, when a New York production of ‘Julius Caesar’ got into trouble for depicting Caesar as Trump, assassinated by women and people of colour. We do have Caesar’s minions selling T-shirts emblazoned with “CAESAR” instead of “Make America Great Again,” also pin badges before the show, and the man himself sporting a red baseball cap bearing his own name. These are not gimmicks but a very real precursor to our perspective on the nature of power.
David Calder’s narcissistic Caesar emerges red tied and casual in golf clothes, as the band revs up the crowd climactically with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. At times he displays insouciant charm; at others he is s given to impulsive decisions, an almost childish tyranny. His surrounding security staff are reminiscent of Mussolini’s Blackshirts, shouting and pushing the stand-up audience back and forth to make way for the platforms that ascend from, and disappear into, the floor. “The Groundlings” are used as the crowd/mob and manoeuvred/manipulated round staging platforms that rise and fall in the acting/audience space. Not sure what happens if you don’t have a biddable audience. The more so when the Bard’s words slip as one actor shouts: “Pompeii is dead, Get over it!” Continue reading Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare