John Bell as General Deitrich von Choltitz. Photo: Prudence Upton

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French playwright Cyril Gély has written a fascinating play that explores the power of diplomacy and the influence of well-chosen words and an engaging manner.

The work examines the conversation that could have taken place between the Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling (played by the inimitable John Gaden) and General Dietrich von Choltitz, Military Governor of Paris, a role that demands the stage presence of an actor with the gravitas of John Bell.

Their meeting takes place just before dawn at the Hotel Meurice on August 25, 1944, when the Allied forces are about to enter the city.

The pressure is on Choltitz to execute Hitler’s orders to blow up Paris and leave it in ruins, but Nordling employs all his knowing charm to persuade the General to disobey the Fuhrer’s decree and save the city. It is this that the historical figure of Choltitz is now remembered, and indeed, this is one of the arguments that the character of Nordling uses in Gely’s play.

The Ensemble is to be congratulated for commissioning this intelligent and thought-provoking play that offers such an interesting insight into this critical historical moment. Award-winning literary translator Julie Rose adapted this work for Australian audiences, John Bell directed with Assistant Director Anna Volska, and Genevieve Lemon makes an appearance as Choltitz’s orderly Frau Mayer, which gives Gély an opportunity to reveal Choltitz’s humanity in caring for her safety.

Not surprisingly, this cerebral thriller performed by two great actors of the Australian stage has sold out.

Until Apr 28. Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall St, Kirribilli. $35-$73+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.ensemble.com.au

Reviewed by Irina Dunn