Theatre Review: A German Life, starring Maggie Smith at the Bridge Theatre

A German Life is a play by Christopher Hampton. It’s inspired by the life and testimony of Brunhilde Pomsel. It stars Maggie Smith ( Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel).

The play is a riveting and thought-provoking look at life inside Nazi Germany during the war. It is all told from Pomsel’s point of view who died at the age of 106 on January 27th 2017.

A German Life directed by Jonathan Kent marks Maggie Smith’s return to the stage in twelve years. At the age of 84, Maggie shows why she is Britains finest actresses. This a one-woman show and Maggie owns the stage and the entire Bridge Theatre throughout the whole 90-minute performance.

From the second she makes her way and takes her seat at the kitchen table of the set designed by Anna Fleischle, she has the audience hooked. She is Pompsel. Making you believe that despite becoming secretary to Goebbels, she truly didn’t know the extent of what atrocities the Nazi’s were committing in the concentration camps. She maintains throughout she did not know until after the war ended just what the Nazi’s had done to millions of Jewish problem.
Though there are times, when you do question, was Pompsel as truly and ignorant as she claimed? Her casual racism and remarks, which today make for uncomfortable listening, make you really think what was life like for German’s during Nazi reign, how many people were like pompsel?

Maggie’s performance draws you in completely. She takes you on Pompsels journey through her life with ease It’s like sitting and chatting to an old friend. You become so engrossed, you barely realise she is moving closer and closer to the audience, in a very clever set design. It’s emotive, calculatingly manipulative as you do end up finding Pompsel a likeable character despite her associations with the Nazi party.

This is down to Kent’s direction of Maggie and her being able to completely own and commit to being a character. A German Life is a study of morality and an individuals own personal responsibility.

It is also the finest acting class there is, delivered by the incomparable Maggie Smith who dares to tread where many of her contemporaries have not. To take on a 90-minute monologue, never once faltering and breaking character. The standing ovation she received when she took her bows was well deserved. Thought-provoking, full of emotion and humour. It is a whirlwind ride, that stays with you long after you have left the theatre.

A German Life runs at The Bridge Theatre until May 11th.

Written by Kelly McFarland

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