Dresden’s Frauenkirche and St Michael’s Cathedral, Coventry. The monastery at Monte Cassino. Mostar’s Stari Most. The Buddhas of Bamyan. The ancient temples of Palmyra, Syria.
The list of cultural sites destroyed in the wars of the past 100 years is heartbreakingly long.
And it would have been much longer had Adolf Hitler’s “Nero Decree” of March 1945 had been enforced. Central Paris as we know it today would be a very different place: one without the Élysée Palace, Les Invalides, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe and the city’s historic bridges.
In Diplomacy, French writer Cyril Gély’s tells the story of the thwarting of Hitler’s order, distilled into a fictional one-hour encounter between two men: the German General Dietrich von Choltitz (played by John Bell), and Raoul Nordling (John Gaden), the Swedish consul brokering a truce between French Resistance fighters and the city’s now besieged occupiers.
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Obviously, we already know the outcome. But Gély’s script (translated and adapted by Julie Rose) makes for an engrossing battle of wits between the career soldier determined to carry out his orders, and the affable persuader who lures his opponent toward the least destructive option.
Is Diplomacy gripping?
Not quite. Gély depicts a crisis situation with the lightest possible touch. But the story is absorbing, the production (directed by Bell, assisted by Anna Volska) is seamless, and the central performances are marvellously deft.
There are three other characters though they have comparatively little to do. Genevieve Lemon is Frau Mayer, von Choltitz’s doting secretary. James Lugton coolly unfurls the proposed path of destruction as architect-turned-demolition expert Werner Ebernach. Joseph Raggart is suitably callow as Brensdorf, the 17-year-old soldier who guards the door.
Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell’s set serves the piece well and ensures we never lose sight of what is at stake.
Diplomacy is undemanding fare, it has to be said. As an opportunity to observe master craftsmen at work, however, it has plenty going for it.
Diplomacy also plays The Joan, Penrith, August 2-3.