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Photo by Prudence Upton

Ensemble Theatre presents, DIPLOMACY, by Cyril Gely, translated and adapted from the French, by Julie Rose, at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli. 23 March – 28 April.

DIPLOMACY, is a French play by Cyril Gely, translated and adapted by Australian Julie Rose. The Ensemble Theatre is giving it an Australian Premiere, Directed by John Bell, assisted by Anna Volska.

DIPLOMACY is set in Paris, on the 25th August, 1944, two and half months after the D-Day landings. The Army General and Military Governor of Paris, Dietrich Von Choltitz (John Bell) has given orders following the command of Hitler to destroy the French capital on the morrow before the arrival of the Allies who are mustering to reclaim it. Mysteriously, the Consul General of Sweden, Raoul Nordling (John Gaden), appears in the suite in the Hotel Meurice, and over a long night of negotiation gradually persuades the German General to reverse that order.

DIPLOMACY is a slim and slight piece of theatre illuminating a relative unknown historical event that, in retrospect, is both sensational and important.

On a Set Design, by Michael Scott-Mitchell, of a spectacularly enlarged and printed shades of grey, black-and-white map of Paris, that covers all the surfaces of the stage, with grey furniture fittings, and in uniforms and suit (Costume Design, by Genevieve Graham) that could be seen in a Warner Brothers period movie (think, for instance, of the black-and-white cinematography by Arthur Edeson on the original CASABLANCA, Directed by Michael Curtiz -1942), the principal actors are supported by a small team of plot enlargers – deliverers of expositional information – James Lugton, Genevieve Lemon and Joseph Raggart, in the guise of Nazi officials and soldiers. Lighting is by Matt Cox; Sound, by Nate Edmundson.

The paramount reason to see this production is to be able to watch two veterans of the Australian Theatre, John Bell and John Gaden, duelling in character with a smooth and well-honed confidence and chemistry, fitting each other’s character contrasting rhythms and musicalities with expert precision and respectful energies, lifting a fairly routine piece of writing into a nearly enthralling entertainment. These two icons of the Australian Theatre occupy the stage together for most of the 80 minutes of the play and it is a pleasure to witness what learned craft can achieve when married to a passionate commitment to the art of being an actor.

Recently I re-read the Authorised Biography of John Gielgud by Sheridan Morley (2003) and was struck with the late careers of Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson, when they were teamed to star in David Storey’s HOME, and later in Harold Pinter’s NO MAN’S LAND. Watching these two Australian stars, one wishes a writer or writers would write a play that could command and make more demand of the resources of these artists.

The season, I understand, is already sold out.

P.S. Two films have revealed this history before: IS PARIS BURNING?(1966) and DIPLOMACY (2014), directed by Volker Schlondorff.