Margaret Helman
1st Jul 2019

The mantra shared by diplomats is that finely nuanced flair and ease to 'charm and disarm' your interlocutor.

The playwright Cyril Gely has given the play 'perfect form'; an understanding that 'words not guns' - in select hands - are weapons that can change the course of history.

In this astonishingly powerful production of the play, more or less a two-hander, we witness Army General and Military Governor of Paris Dietrich von Choltitz (John Bell) in his suite in the Hotel Meurice, Paris, 1944. Bell struts around his desk, his body language taut, creating a flinty sense of tension as he counts down the hours to the early dawn when he will obey Hitler's order - the explosion of Paris and the certain death of her people.

Enter Paul Nordling, Consul General of Sweden in Paris (John Gaden). His unannounced arrival is his last opportunity as a representative of a neutral country to use every tool in his kit of diplomatic words, combined with empathy and considered non verbal cues to stare down the general and save Paris from an atrocity.

The script provides an opportunity for these two actors - national treasures - to lift their craft to giddy heights as they face off on a verbal journey overlayed with a moral compass and - in the General's case - an imminent grief if he backs down on his orders.

This perfectly formed play and its players is the stuff that theatres are built for. The risk, the tension, the danger and doubt and the unravelling of our conscience.

Accolades to John Bell for his direction, Anna Volska who assisted and Michael Scott-Mitchell whose elegant and minimalist set design added a certain dignity to the profound issues at hand.

A defining moment in the theatre.

(Many performances have sold out, but tickets are still available for the evenings of 2 and 6 July www.ensemble.com.au/shows/diplomacy)