The Fame Reporter interviewed Australian theatre royalty Robyn Nevin. She will star in the upcoming play ‘A German Life’ playing at The Playhouse Theatre at QPAC from 2 – 13 June.
A German Life is a theatrical tour-de-force about one ordinary woman’s extraordinary experiences during the Second World War. In this Australian premiere, Robyn Nevin plays Brunhilde Pomsel, an unassuming woman with good shorthand skills who, almost by chance, came to work in Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. Innocent or culpable? That’s the question at the heart of A German Life, a searching play that probes confronting questions for contemporary audiences.
We talked to Robyn about returning to the theatre, what enticed her to be apart of ‘A German Life’, what surprised her about her real life character, her love for the Queensland theatre scene and more.
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Robyn, what sparked your interest in performing initially?
Initially that ‘spark’ goes back to an 11 year old schoolgirl in Hobart who was the best reader in the class and maybe even the prettiest, with long dark hair. This prompted the director of the school play to cast her as Snow White. The experience was positive and the response was positive and that ‘spark’ started my engagement with the art of acting.
What drew you to want to be involved in the play ‘A German Life’?
I was sent a copy of the published play, A GERMAN LIFE, by an English friend – the actor, Alex Jennings – who had seen it on stage in the West End. I found the story of Brunhilde Pomsel’s life fascinating and, although the prospect of learning 10,000 words and performing it alone was daunting, the play had power. It warns of the dangers of ‘spin’ or propaganda.
It seemed relevant for us today, and it’s the simplest and most powerful form of story telling: sitting down and telling the story of one’s life…
What is your favourite aspect of about playing Brunhilde Pomse?
I enjoy telling the story directly to the audience. It’s just them and me. Intimate, personal and I’ve found the audiences are really engaged. It’s a great feeling to have that connection.
What did you learn that surprised you when researching Brunhilde and her story during WWII?
I was surprised by the horror she expresses as she talks about the Nazis because she also denies any knowledge of their evil at the time she lived through and in the midst the Nazi period. And she worked in Josef Goebbels’ office. She was close to the Nazi leadership. It’s difficult to reconcile both. But perhaps the propaganda shaped her….
What was it like working with the talented creative team of ‘A German Life’?
I have known each member of the team who put this production together for many years. I wanted familiar people I knew and could trust to support me through this mammoth project. They are all very gifted artists and have each given of their best. I’m blessed.
In your career what job or role has taught you the most and what did you learn?
The job of acting has given me so much.
I’ve been on stage for 60 years and while it demands a great deal from me it always gives back.
It’s not fun, it’s not play, it’s a serious and demanding craft and if you serve it well the rewards are there. I’ve learned discipline, the need to be honest and true to the script, to be true to oneself, to be a team player, to take care of the only tool one has – which is yourself. You must take care to maintain your mental physical and emotional health.
How do you feel being part of one of only a few shows in the world that are able to perform right now?
During the early months of the pandemic my film RELIC, a horror film, was released via streaming of course, not in cinemas. It was one of the only ones released and it was a global success. Then came this project which I spent the Covid months learning at home. I’ve been very fortunate.
How was it working with the legendary Dame Julie Andrews as Mrs Higgins in ‘My Fair Lady’?
Julie Andrews directed MY FAIR LADY in which I played Mrs HIGGINS and of course it was a delight. She was a very positive presence in the rehearsal room and clearly loved bringing the show back to life here in Australia. She had lots of stories and was a great story teller. I adored her as we all did.
Happily I’ve remained in touch with her [Julie Andrews] and visited her in her house in the States a couple of years ago.
What do you love about screen acting in comparison to stage acting and vice versa?
Screen acting is easier than acting on the stage. In theatre you do eight shows a week performing the entire play at each performance, and for screen you do about three minutes of screen time a day which you film in between long periods of sitting around having cups of tea.
A lot of people are present on a film set to look after you, not so in the theatre. If you play leading roles on stage, which I do, the toll physically, mentally and emotionally, of eight performances a week for sometimes nine weeks, is extreme. Screen is easier!
What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Alex Jennings, Hugh Jackman and Julie Andrews
What do you love or admire about the Queensland arts or theatre community in particular?
I haven’t worked in BRISBANE since I did MY FAIR LADY and before that since I ran the Queensland Theatre Company in the late 1990s so I’ve lost touch with that community. I hope they remember me.
Why should audiences come along and see ‘A German Life’?
I’m confident that audiences will find A GERMAN LIFE a gripping story. Our audiences at the recent Adelaide Festival were certainly deeply engaged.
I believe that a person talking directly to a audience offering their life story is the most compelling form of storytelling we know, and what we also know for certain is that everyone loves a good story.
This old woman lived through the two world wars of the 20th century and she knew a thing or two….and she’s a great story teller.
Also it’s a warning play, it has at its core a warning to us all that we must be aware of the dangers of accepting without question the propaganda or ‘spin’ we are subjected to as citizens in a democracy. You only have to look at the state of politics in the US with the last election now being touted as The Big Lie, and a large section of the public not believing that the election was fairly won, not accepting that President Biden is actually the President. Remember the phrases ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ introduced in 2016? That’s when the ‘spin’ started.
Look how apparently easily the public were misinformed and how completely they became convinced that facts are not facts if they’re not spoken by the people they support.
While this play doesn’t overtly speak to these issues it is easy to see the parallels between the power of propaganda in the time in which Brunhilde lived, and today. Hence the warning.
Fame Reporter Word Play
A German Life
Travel to Russia and China or build a house
Heat and colour and 5.00 pm lightening storms and pale aqua water at Noosa
Favourite mantra when you are down?
You never know what’s around the corner
Any secret talents?
Excellent management skills
Relic, my last film
A GERMAN LIFE
ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
Savoury or Sweet?
Savoury and sweet
Dressing Room necessity?
Daniel Barenboim at 11 and James Dean at 13. None now.
A GERMAN LIFE
Can’t live without?
Place you want to travel to?
To build a house
TV Show Binge?
Better Call Saul
Finally, favourite thing about performing?
Connection with an audience
Thank-you Robyn for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for ‘A German Life’ the Musical!
All photos – Supplied