“What did you do in the War, Daddy?”

two/fiftyseven, 2/57 Willis Street (entrance located at 70 Victoria Street), Wellington

29/02/2024 - 03/03/2024

NZ Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Writer: Robert DUSSLER
Co writer: Lukas DUSSLER
Director: Debbie Mulholland


The play reveals the lives of the writer’s German ancestors during the second world war. A bombshell revelation trigger a father and son into conjuring up their ancestors and enacting events from their lives. It confronts them with hard questions about choice and agency under a totalitarian rule.

29 Feb – 3 March 2024
8.30 pm

Full price $20
Concession $12

Booking through the Wellington Fringe Festival website and at the Fringe box office, 17 Allen street.
Door sales.

Event page: search title on Facebook

Lukas Dussler
Robert Dussler

Director Debbie Mulholland
Coach Matthew Dussler
Lighting design Charlie Higgison
Visuals Poppy Carter
Stage design Toby de Lacey
Costume Maria Dussler
Management Krissy Dussler

Theatre ,

45 min

Feels like a priceless yet unpolished jewel

Review by Shemaia Dixon 02nd Mar 2024

Upon entering 2/57 Willis Street for the development season of What did you do in the war, Daddy? the audience can see a chair and a cello sitting centre stage. The show is introduced by Matthew Dussler, who explains that the show will be performed by his brother, Lukas, and their father Robert. Matthew then explains that his father had spent two years diving into the family history, and the show we’re about to see is the product of that research. It is heavily based on conversations Robert Dussler had with his own father Albrecht and ongoing dialogues with wider family members.

The show begins with Robert playing a beautiful song on the cello. Both performers play multiple roles beginning with Robert playing himself and Lukas acting as his brother Matthew. Lukas, as Matthew, asks Robert about their family’s experience during the war and whether they were fully blown Nazi. The performers morph into the past as Lukas becomes his ancestor and the audience experiences the Dussler family’s stories. Variations of the same scene recur, showing that the Dusslers’ ancestors could have made good decision, but instead chose hate. After the show, Robert announces that he will be in the foyer to converse and answer any questions the audience may have.

The concept is brilliant and the show is an excellent form of oral history. However, when talking with other audience members after the show, it becomes clear that it was not always apparent when the performers changed character, creating moments of confusion for them.

Robert Dussler shines in his many roles. This show marks Lukas’ first experience of acting and it shows. However, while further acting training may be useful, it is clear that Lukas has great passion and that he is proud to be telling his family’s story. Robert and Lukas have undeniably clear chemistry, which is understandable considering they are father and son, so it would be helpful if the performers accents were not mismatched during scenes set in Nazi Germany. 

The musical and sound-based elements are superb and bring emotion and immersion to the show. There are many more opportunities where sound could be utilised more. Lighting could also be used in a more dynamic way, though this may not have been possible in this particular performance space.

It is clear this story is a labour of love that is deeply personal to the Dussler family. Robert has taken great care in writing it with co-writers and sons Matthew and Lukas as well as director Debra Mulholland. Nonetheless, it would be helpful to employ an outside opinion from a professional who does not have such a personal attachment to the piece and can advise on ways to make the elements that are clear to the writers and performers, also clear to the audience.

As a historian who has German family, I adore this show. It feels reminiscent of conversations I’ve had regarding my own family members during the Second World war. It is also a fascinating way to communicate history and highlights the family stories that are not always told. It’s interesting to explore the ways we confront the fact that our ancestors could have made better decisions and chose not to. I am sincerely excited to see where this show goes.

This development season feels like a priceless yet unpolished jewel, and I commend Robert Dussler and his family on their hard work in presenting a fascinating experience.


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