‘We have to laugh at monsters,” says playwright/director Greg Viljoen. As chancellor and dictator of Germany, the Führer at the centre of Nazi Germany was widely considered the biggest evil of the 20th century.
He was also one of the most gifted orators. His reign of terror finally ended on April 30, 1945, when he committed suicide with his long-time partner, Eva Braun, to avoid capture. But what if he didn’t?
What if the Nazis had one more deception left to play – one that could see them rise to power again, and conquer an unsuspecting world?
This is the alternative universe where playwright Greg Viljoen tells the tale of The Last Moustache which opens for a second Gauteng season at the Joburg Theatre’s Fringe, opening on June 18 and running until July 5.
In this world, Hitler was success-fully assassinated in the Wolf’s Lair headquarters in 1944. But the Nazi propaganda machine convinced the world that he survived and they hired a troop of actors to take on the real-life role of Hitler himself.
One of these actors was Heiner Schmidt (Tim Plewman, pictured), a once-acclaimed German theatrical performer. The Last Moustache is the story of that actor and how he was hired to play the role of a lifetime, with only the recognition of a handful of Nazi buffoons to look forward to. When Plewman was first offered the part, he was intrigued but unsure.
“I was worried that it would be too controversial and then discovered after reading the play that it was controversial but fantastically so.”
That’s the thing about The Last Moustache, you simply have to trust the word-of-mouth and Plewman’s track record. This is a man that a friend described as “the long-distance runner of solo shows”.
“It can be tough, but I have a handle on it now,” he says. It’s become second nature although he still loves playing with a cast.
Dealing with Hitler’s evil and the way he is perceived and then talking about a play that makes you laugh, doesn’t always sit that well. But what Plewman and the play are doing, is showing a man who has to impersonate Hitler. So what happens is that the actor is given a chance to play these two sides which in a peculiar way shows exactly what happens to people in positions of too much power.
Getting under the skin of someone seemingly so familiar to so many, Plewman first relied on the accoutre-ments like the make-up, the hair and of course, the moustache. He read widely to discover more about the man behind the monstrous facade. “It’s about a state of being,” is how he describes the performance.
When we meet Hitler it’s already once he has metamorphed from all powerful to defeat – even if he wasn’t going to acknowledge that and kept lying to himself right to the end.
“He was a chilling, cold character,” says Plewman and he loved the challenge of playing someone so different to, for example, the Caveman character that had kept him busy for so many years. And the accent. “I have to switch to different German accents,” he explains. “Between four and five,” because of the many characters that pop up in his monologue.
But to watch the performance and the way this particular story unfolds, it’s mesmerising.
You have to take the monster out of the bunker and shine a strong light, is how playwright Greg Viljoen argues about people like Adolf Hitler – the man responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews and millions of others. “It’s about yanking the rug from under the feet of the great dictator.”
Viljoen feels it is a piece that blends comedy and pathos, which is something that Plewman uses well and moves him away from his Caveman brand.
Standing on its own, The Last Moustache can be seen for its brilliant local script and stunning performance. That’s a knockout blow.