by Cyril Gély
Translated and adapted by Julie Rose
Director John Bell
Assistant Director Anna Volska
Photos Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre until April 28
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Okay, I might be biased, but any play that showcases the talents of John Bell (Nimrod Theatre Company & Bell Shakespeare) and John Gaden is a must-see. As I mentioned in another review, since working with Gaden at the Old Tote Theatre Company in the 1970s, I’ve regarded him as Australia’s finest stage actor whether he’s doing Ibsen, Molière, Shakespeare, Chekhov, Kafka or Stoppard. Whatever the character, Gaden brings a presence like I’ve never seen with any other actor. The character comes from inside him and there’s always a bit of Gaden magic in each of them.
In Diplomacy, Michael Scott-Mitchell’s map of Paris cyclorama, draping and floor provides the perfect setting for the suite in the Hotel Meurice on the 25th of August, 1944.
The suite is the headquarters of General Dietrich von Choltitz whom Hitler had instructed to flatten Paris and it’s due to take place the next morning. In his discussions with his orderly, Frau Mayer (Genevieve Lemon), it’s clear that von Choltitz is contemplating his imminent demise due to the stage of the war and the limited number of soldiers that he has at his disposal, but the razing of the French capital is still to take place.
This first section between the two nazis seems stilted; it’s as if the translation was by a novelist rather than a playwright.
Enter Raoul Nordling, the French-born Consul General of Sweden in Paris. The energy immediately lifts as Nordling, always a few psychological steps ahead, begins to convince von Choltitz to call off the destruction. History has shown the result of the negotiation, but it’s the process that’s interesting and even educational.
Nordling uses all of his diplomacy skills to gradually bring von Choltitz around.
Diplomacy is essentially a two-hander performed by two powerhouses of Australian theatre and they are supported by Genevieve Lemon who delivered a towering performance as the lead in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? last year at the same theatre.
To be honest, with anticipation and expectation, I will go to see any production in which I can appreciate the skills of Bell, Gaden and Lemon. The Ensemble Theatre continues to come up with the productions.