Review: Diplomacy (Ensemble Theatre)

Venue: Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli NSW), Mar 23 – Apr 28, 2018
Playwright: Cyril Gély (translated and adapted by Julie Rose)
Director: John Bell
Cast: John Bell, John Gaden, Genevieve Lemon, James Lugton, Joseph Raggatt
Image by Prudence Upton

Theatre review
On the eve of Paris’ impending decimation by the Nazis, Raoul Nordling a Swedish diplomat, pays a surprise visit to the hotel suite of German military governor Dietrich von Choltitz. In Cyril Gély’s Diplomacy, we witness the intense negotiations that lead to Choltitz’s eventual surrender. We always knew how the play was going to conclude, so it is the dynamics between the two men that are crucial to the drama that ensues.

These historical facts, albeit amplified, are fascinating. The idea that one man could thwart an operation of such scale, should prove to be quite astonishing, but the production is tepid, unable to convey the tension of war, and the very serious stakes never become sufficiently persuasive.

It is a good looking show; Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set design is sophisticated and inventively functional, while Genevieve Graham’s costumes are detailed and impeccably tailored. Lights by Matt Cox and sound by Nate Edmondson, are elegant, both suitably restrained and minimal in approach.

As Choltitz, John Bell is appropriately imposing, but it is a portrayal that can feel surface and impenetrable. John Gaden plays up the charm of Nordling, and makes good use of comic opportunities, but chemistry between the two leads struggles for authenticity, and their story ends up being told with only grandiosity and no discernible nuance.

Stories of war will always be worth recounting, as long as we continue to undertake them. Histories repeat, as though human nature will forever be doomed to replicate all its mistakes. Some will consult the annals to try for improvements to our behaviour, but others it seems, will look to the past only to learn how to win at meaningless battles of our future.

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