REVIEW: "GELI - HITLER'S NIECE"

A good Catholic girl?
by Richard Wolstencroft

A great new play has opened in Melbourne Australia that deals with the touchy issue of Adolf Hitler’s relationship with his niece Geli. Anyone who has studied the National Socialist period already knows the story well.

In the late 20’s Hitler develops a love interest for his half niece, Geli Raubel. At first it’s all fun and games, but Hitler becomes jealous after Geli has an affair with his chauffeur Emil, and becomes overly protective and manipulative. Eventually keeping her as a virtual prisoner in the Berghof, until she commits suicide at the young age of 23.

Hitler goes into a deep depression afterwards, and takes a break by the Tegernsee and does not attend the funeral. A few days later, he visits her grave in grief – but then loses his depression and refocuses his attention on politics and Germany, and begins in earnest his relationship with Eva Braun, still keeping Geli’s portrait in many of his private rooms.

These are the historical facts.

In Enzo Condello’s wonderfully new play Geli  Hitler’s Niece, Geli is portrayed as an unsung heroine of modern history. Played well by Kelley Kerr Young, she is a girl who believes that love and love alone is strong enough to turn old Adolf from his more extreme ideas – and friends – to a milder path of Populist Nationalism infused with Catholic values. Geli envisages a kinder, gentler Hitler, and sets about bringing this into reality, with, at times, Hitler’s own acquiescence, it seems.

Geli channels a redemptive Catholicism, adopting the demeanour of an angel, as she tries to get Hitler to see her perspective, constantly reminding him of his own Catholic background and heritage. But sometimes taking up the whip in mock S&M shenanigans as well.

A Shakespearean grasp of psychology. 
The play is set up as a battle between good and evil – with Hitler’s soul as the prize. The Dark Side here is symbolised by no less than Heinrich Himmler, who sees Geli as a softening influence on the “Fuhrer to be” and uses his Machiavellian cunning to undermine her. Spiking her drinks at parties and such, he creates a series of scandalous situations where she is seen flirting with good-looking Nazi ‘hangers-on.’ This is all fascinatingly handled in the play.

Enzo Condello is the Brother of Mario Condello, one of the heavy hitters in the Carlton Crew, who got whacked during the Melbourne crime wars of late 1990s and early Zeroes. Before his passing, Mario asked Enzo to write a play about Geli and Hitler. Drawing on this and his own life experiences, this is the excellent result. Enzo Condello is a modern-day would-be bard, in the grand Shakespearean tradition, and his Geli has echoes of Othello, with Himmler in the Iago role.

It’s ambitious but all rather well done, in my view.

It’s not without some small problems. It’s perhaps 20 mins too long at 110 mins without an intermission. Jonathan Harris playing Himmler looks more like Goebbels, a taller version, and the guy playing Goebbels looks more like an early version of Goering. But that’s not really that big of a deal. These are only minor quibbles.

The corrupting influence.
The stand out performance of the play is that of Matthew Richard Walsh as Adolf Hitler. He gives a stunning performance as the "Man of Destiny" for the local indy stage, capturing the torment of an individual torn between love and the middle path on the one hand, and the darker side embodied in Himmler’s vision of Nazism to come.

His great performance raises the question: If Geli had stayed by his side, would Hitler have been far less radical, merely deporting some Jews while assimilating many others – as Geli recommends? Could she have helped him to push the extreme ideas of his darker entourage behind him?

It’s a timely idea and theme, as Nationalism is clearly rising on the world stage once again. Do we choose a Nationalism filtered through a Geli, namely one that is more loving, fairer, and less brutal – one, in short, with a strong Christian ethos backing it up – or do we descend into a mutually destructive nightmare of nihilism and Satanic darkness?

Geli – Hitler’s Niece is a prescient and timely reflection on all this important question and one must take one’s hat off to writer Condello, director Heidecker, and lead actor Matthew Richard Walsh for putting this all together against the odds.

Trade’s Hall, the original venue, baulked at the controversial subject matter and kicked them out, showing their cowardice and lack of commitment to artistic freedom. But, luckily, the play found a great new home in Richmond at the Richmond Theatrette.

This is a must for local theatre goers, and I hope it sees a return season interstate, or even an overseas run.  It has two more performances locally. Get along and catch one if you can.

Credits:

Produced by the Globe Players
Written by Enzo Condello
Directed by Wolf Heidecker
Featuring Kelley Kerr Young, Matthew Richard Walsh, Caroline Ferguson, Simone Bergamin & Ben Byrne
Set & Image Design by Sarah Yeung.