Diplomacy at the Ensemble Theatre

Returning by popular demand after a sold out 2018 season, theatre legends John Bell and John Gaden unite in this unmissable WWII thriller about Nazi Germany’s plot to destroy Paris. Carly spoke with actor and Director John Bell about the return of this powerhouse production and offers a little advice to all the emerging artists out there.

Read the full interview below:

John Bell

After a sold out success at the Ensemble theatre, Diplomacy returns to once again tell the story of Swedish diplomat, Raoul Nordling, and German General, Dietrich von Choltitz in Paris. What is it about this story that you feel has engaged Sydney audiences so intensely and, for those who have yet to hear about the production, why is it one audiences must ensure that they do not miss?


“Diplomacy” works so well because most people don’t know the story: How Hitler ordered Paris to be destroyed and how close it came to happening. Audiences enjoy watching the intrigue and gameplaying— What ingenuity it took for one diplomat to save the city from destruction.


Despite being set in 1944, the idea of the world on the brink of major turmoil, and in particular, a city on the brink of destruction, at the hands of just a select few individuals rings true to 2019. Why do you believe that this story has remained relevant and what do we have to learn from the processes and discussions that these two men share in deciding the fate of the world as we know it?


We have to remind ourselves that no city is safe any more: We get random acts of Terror in Sydney , Melbourne, Nice, Paris, Christchurch— they can happen anywhere. But we also live with the fear of Long range missiles, whether they are  fired from North Korea, Iran , the USA or Russia, they all spell mass destruction. We seem to be entering another Cold War era, when we all lived in terror of “the Bomb”...We need to keep asking ourselves” Are we mad enough to do it?” Unfortunately, with precedents like Hitler and Mussolini, the answer seems to be “ Yes”.

Of course, with the return of the show comes the reunion of the cast. What has the rehearsal process been like in getting the show back up off the ground and ready for the stage once more? Are there changes that either you or, your co-star, John Gaden have to your characters or performances or are you intentionally remembering and remounting the 2018 production to maintain authenticity to the original production?


In re- rehearsing the show, we’ll start with what we have and hopefully dig deeper.You always get more out of it the second time round—it’s had time to simmer and the hard slog of preparation is behind you. The characters feel more comfortable, like an old pair of slippers.

You also directed this production. What was it that initially appealed to you about this show and what led you to taking the approach for the characters and also environment that you made?


I took this play to the Ensemble because I think is ideal for that intimate space.It’s a good tight drama and the audience is right in it with you...I have kept the costumes as authentic as possible, especially the German  uniforms, because the audience has to believe it. But I wanted the set to be an abstraction- - something more interesting than a hotel room— so the stage is a huge map of Paris, to remind us of what we nearly lost.

Through your career you have played a wonderfully varied array of characters. How do you now choose which characters or shows you want to take on?  Have any of the characters that you have played stayed with you beyond the end of the show? Is there anything about this character you could see staying with you beyond the run of the show?


Some characters drop away immediately..Shakespeare’s characters never leave you, they become a part of your life. I think the character of General von Choltitz in “ Diplomacy” will stay with me for a while because his moral dilemma is so intense .

Finally, for our readers who are emerging artists, what is the best piece of advice you were ever given in encouraging you to pursue this challenging career? And what is another piece of your own original advice you feel all emerging artists must know?


The best advice I have had.?  “.Life is not a rehearsal”. That applies to your whole life, not just Theatre— we only get one shot at it, so get it right.

My own advice? If you love what you are doing, give it all you’ve got. If you stop loving it,move on.




Favourite production you have ever seen?

Peter Brook’s “ Midsummer Night’s Dream”, 1970.It was revolutionary.

You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?

Egypt— in fact I am going there in October to fulfil a life’s dream.

Dream role to perform?

Hamlet— it’s got everything an actor could want, and it’s a lot of fun.

Plays or musicals?

I don’t do musicals— I can’t sing for nuts.

A hobby you have beyond the theatre?

I have a passion for Classical music and I love drawing and painting.

What’s next for you after this show?

I have a number of recitals lined up with Simon Tedeschi and a String Quartet, and I’m working on a new show for the Ensemble— under wraps for now.

Diplomacy opens at the Ensemble Theatre on June 21st 2019. You can get your tickets here.

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