Australian actress, director and former head of the Queensland Theatre Company and the Sydney Theatre Company, Robyn Nevin, AO, is the type of figure who deserves applause upon her every stage entrance. That is what deservedly happens at the start of Christopher Hampton’s powerful play A German Life. Nevin plays Brunhilde Pomsel and shares the extraordinary story of the unassuming elderly German woman with a controversial past who did what she saw as her job.
Throughout what is essentially a 90-minute monologue, Nevin frailly shuffles around the room that has become Pomsel’s life. She clasps her cardigan around herself and holds on to her handkerchief as she recalls how, almost by chance, when skilled at shorthand, she came to work as secretary for Joseph Goebbels. She tells of revisionism of record keeping within Germany’s Ministry of Propaganda.
The critically-acclaimed play was composed from 30 hours of interviews given by the then 103-year-old Pomsel from her Munich nursing home for the 2014 documentary of the same name. Pomsel potters about the place undertaking her daily duties, all the while conveying a sense of loneliness, behind her reassurance at her comfort at being alone. It is a challenging role to which Nevin brings an engaging empathy. Hers is a nuanced performance, delivered unhurried, with a German accent. The audience is spellbound. The play doesn’t shy away from its confronting moral considerations around concepts of culpability and courage.
Nigel Levings’s lighting is accompanied by archival footage from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is projected on the set walls. Catherine Finnis’s cello interludes solidify the solemn sentiment at the heart of the story. The occasional sounds of the solo musician complement the multi-media moments and work well with the show’s simple staging.
In Robyn Nevin’s hands A German Life is a triumph. Everyday anecdotes suddenly become significant and illustrate that history is about ordinary people living ordinary lives, while all around them the world is changing. A German Life is showing at QPAC until 13th June.