Tom Shilling, Noah Taylor, Bruno Ganz and now Glenn van Oosterom. They've all played Hitler
After a sell-out run at La Mama in 2013, George Tabori's controversial comedy, Mein Kampf, directed by Beng Oh, returns for an encore season at fortyfivedownstairs. Twenty-seven years after it premiered, Tabori's farcical take on the sorrows of young Hitler is still as impertinent and improbable as ever, a play crammed with pratfalls and poignancy. Glenn van Oosterom, who reprises his role as the art-student-cum-tyrant-in-the-making, spoke to Time Out about playing history's greatest villain.
Hi Glenn, how does one prepare for playing Hitler?
Phew. I don’t know? You take a really long time to decide if you want to do it, decide against it, and then you throw yourself into it. You do research, you study the script, you learn about the playwright.
But this isn’t really the Hitler we 'know', this is an amalgam of fact, fiction and myth. I think he exists both as a character on the stage and as a shadow across the characters. But, regardless, you just have to begin. You have to find a way to understand what your character wants, to empathise with their situation – whilst everything in your body resists, history resists, websites resist. But you have to find a way to justify it, because if you don’t then you’re not doing justice to the role, the play, the audience, history or its victims.
Putting aside that it's Hitler – albeit a young Hitler – how would you describe your character?
He’s a fickle creature; a petulant child. Obsessive, argumentative, ridiculous – with poor social skills and even poorer table manners. Talks too much. Funny guy.
Is it possible to have too much fun with such a harrowing subject? Or is laughter like time, healing all wounds?
We need to laugh, it’s an excellent way of dealing with situations. To make light of it. To let go. But then I’m comfortable saying this because I didn’t write it, Tabori wrote it, and he had a right to tell such a story, a birthright. He had an objective. He wanted people to laugh.
Is it true that, as George Tabori writes, there are taboos that must be broken or they will continue to choke us? Is a prohibition on artistically exploiting certain subjects ever useful?
No, I don’t think avoiding subjects is useful. There’s plenty of avoiding going around. But they need to be approached with a huge amount of respect, and opinions need to be examined thoroughly (especially your own). Then, when presented, it needs to be good, so that whatever form it is in, it has an effect, and the people effected tell their friends, who tell their friends (who hopefully don’t all want comps).
Are there any historical subjects that you wouldn't touch?
I never thought I'd touch this. It depends on the context. I felt okay approaching this because it’s a wonderful play in the hands of some wonderfully conscientious and wickedly funny people. I think you have to do your due diligence before you begin, then, rock the boat.
This must be such an unexpected bonus, to be able to revisit the role so soon after the first season.
No, I always prefer to remount shows before I forget the dialogue. Actually, it’s a privilege, you never get this. The first season was challenging but so satisfying, La Mama were incredibly supportive and the cast and creative team were brilliant. So it’s a second chance at a role, but with a half-new cast. Most times you work hard at it every night and think if I just had one more show I could’ve got it! Now, I have no excuse.
Other plans for the year?
I just finished playing another mother-lover in a heart-breaking, hilarious short for Tropfest called Slow Cooker, and am about to begin shooting a web series, an Australian version of Skins called ‘Clique’. Plus, hoping to finally lay down the voice track (I play the lead Barbarian’s horse, called ‘Horse') for Snowgum Film’s 10-years-in-the-making epic Troll Bridge by Terry Pratchett. Other than that, not sure? Maybe Vietnam? Got any suggestions?