THEATRE REVIEW: A German Life starring Dame Maggie Smith

WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2

WHERE? Bridge Theatre RUNTIME: 100 minutes (no interval)

WHEN? 6/4, opens 12/4, runs to 11/5/19

Brunhilde Pomsel was a secretary in 1930s Berlin who worked for Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and this new play is based on testimony she gave shortly before her death in 2016.

  • Read on for reasons including which fellow double Oscar winner was in the audience for this 1st preview

The conceit of course is that she is an elderly woman in her latter years when we meet her and so this 100-minute monologue is rambling and may be misremembered.

There can be nothing more exposing for an actor than a monologue and we can’t help but compare this with Laura Linney’s mastery of the form at this very venue in My Name Is Lucy Barton last summer.

Tonight was the 1st preview, Dame Maggie Smith has sold out the entire run of 29 performances and we occasionally felt that at times she appeared to lose her way in the storytelling and perhaps a prompt in a hidden earpiece was enabling her to pivot and lurch elsewhere.

Pomsel’s story is remarkable because we’re never quite sure how complicit she is with what is going on around her as she’s clearly a bright woman who has fallen in with the Nazi party but never seems particularly comfortable with its anti-Jewish rhetoric.

The play is written by Christopher Hampton and directed by Jonathan Kent (the team behind the recent translation of Florian Zeller’s hit  The Height Of The Storm) and what is especially striking about this production is how the table Brunhilde is sitting at moves closer to the main auditorium throughout the play, eventually becoming illuminated as the rest of the set descends into darkness as the emotional thrust of the play shifts gear.

The Bridge Theatre is a 900-seat venue and we feel privileged to have seen Smith at such close quarters in what was her 1st London theatre appearance for 12 years.

She is a double Oscar winner and holder of the Triple Crown of Acting: the aforementioned Oscars, as well as an Emmy and Golden Globe who last performed on stage in London in 2007 in The Lady From Dubuque at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

We’ve reviewed her on film twice since in The Lady In The Van and Nothing Like A Dame.

We think she’s exceptionally brave to be taking on this one-woman show and couldn’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Although, if you’ve never seen Smith on stage before she can wring laughs from the most withering put-downs as she’s proved in Downton Abbey, the film of which is released in September.

A German Life is a timely play in an era of fake news and the rise of the right that possesses the power to shock. As we leave we notice that Dustin Hoffman is in the audience proving that Smith was not the only double Oscar winner at the Bridge tonight.

  • Picture by Helen Maybanks via Facebook courtesy Bridge Theatre. Tickets
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  1. montana634 · April 7, 2019

    sorry but how fair is it to review a preview? Especially after 12 years being „off stage“ and at the age of 84? I came only for this evening from Germany and it was totally worth it. The audiece was thrilled! There were standing ovations. You should mention that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mrmonstagigz · April 7, 2019

      Hi montana634, thanks for your thoughts and I’m glad you enjoyed the show. Your comment about standing ovations are now part of the piece.


  2. montana634 · April 7, 2019

    Sorry but how fair is it to review a preview? Especially after 12 years being „off-stage“ and at the age of 84? I came only for this evening from Germany and it was totally worth it. The audiece was thrilled! There were standing ovations. You should mention that.


  3. Hillary King · April 7, 2019

    We seem to have been watching a different show entirely, I found her performance completely enrapturing and felt that her interpretation of an elderly lady beginning to lose her memory very convincing. I did not, as you describe feel as though Maggie Smith was forgetting her lines but rather she was acting, giving a convincing portrayal of one succumbing to old age. I felt that her powerful performance was fully deserving of the standing ovation that she recieved.


  4. montana634 · April 8, 2019

    Great comment! I Share your opinion completely! It was a wonderful line, a wonderful evening and it was absolutely worth it to fly to London for this performance!


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