(Michael Billlington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/12.)
Absent from the stage for 12 years, Maggie Smith returns in triumph. But this is no barnstorming performance. She plays, with just the right verbal hesitancy and moral evasiveness, a woman who worked in Joseph Goebbels’ ministry of propaganda during the second world war.
Based by Christopher Hampton on a German TV documentary shot when the woman in question, Brunhilde Pomsel, was 102, the play is a record of a life rather than a form of judicial enquiry.
Pomsel found herself at the centre of events almost by chance. Through her shorthand skills, she quickly moved from work with an insurance broker to a job at the German Broadcasting Corporation before becoming part of Goebbels’ propaganda machine.
What comes across is her apolitical naivety. Instructed by the radio company to become a member of the party, she takes a Jewish female chum along to the requisite office. Even when she was a secretary in Goebbels’ office, she suggests that she had no notion of the horrors being perpetrated by the Nazis.