Adelaide Festival 2021: A German Life

Image courtesy of Adelaide Festival

WHAT: A German Life

WHEN: 19 February – 14 March 2021

WHERE: Dunstan Playhouse

COST: Click here for details

In the setting of a nursing home, an elderly Brunhilde Pomsel (Robyn Nevin) sits in a wooden armchair and ruminates about her life in early twentieth century Germany. Her time of growing up during the Great Depression and working for the Propaganda machine – Joseph Goebbels, depicts a life that intersects with some of the most extraordinary events of the time. 

Nevin delivers the monologue in an oddly familiar and conversational way, deeply reminiscent of chatting with an elder or grandparent. She captures the mannerisms of old age by occasionally fretting about the room, losing her train of thought and in particular, the way her vagueness of memory corresponds with moments of piercing clarity. Her memories are facilitated by projectors on the walls screening genuine footage of Nazi Germany: crowds gathered at rallies, people heiling Hitler, and Jewish people being shuffled through concentration camps.

Despite the fact she contributed and helped enable the most dangerous political movement in modern memory, instead of criticising oneself, Pomsel absolves herself of any guilt. She claims political naivety in joining the Nazi Party, claims she did not know what was happening at the concentration camps and unapologetically describes her initial impression of Joseph Goebbels as “damn good looking” (which made me feel so uncomfy).

In a revealing moment Pomsel says “we didn’t want to know about them, we really didn’t”, which in my mind raised the question whether one can argue about a lack of education, ignorance or naivety as a reason for not taking action or a stand for what is just or right. Everyone in the audience is accused of listening about the atrocities happening in Syria, turning the television off and going to dinner without another thought.

A truly compelling performance, inciting oneself to consider whether we would conform with the masses or surrender to the power of the moment, allowing lies to become the truth.

4/5 stars

– by Rachel Wong

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