Wolf’s Lair

BATS Theatre, Wellington

26/02/2009 - 07/03/2009

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

25/08/2009 - 05/09/2009

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

27/11/2009 - 12/12/2009

NZ Fringe Festival 2009

Production Details

Almost A Bird Theatre Collective
(Antigone, Angels in America, A Streetcar Named Desire, Jeff Koons)
presents Wolf’s Lair 

Devised and created by Chapman Tripp Award Winners Sophie Roberts and Willem Wassenaar. Performed by Sophie Roberts, directed by Willem Wassenaar.

"Of course, the terrible things I heard from the Nuremberg Trials, about the six million Jews and the people from other races who were killed, were facts that shocked me deeply. I was satisfied that I wasn’t personally to blame and that I hadn’t known about those things. I now know that it was no excuse to be young. If I had never seen dead people before, I see them everywhere now, and at last, I can weep." – Traudl Junge

Wolf’s Lair is a solo show based on the life of Traudl Junge, Hitler’s personal secretary during World War II.

Germany, 1942. Taudl Junge was a young woman with dreams of becoming a ballerina. Instead, at 22 years old she became Adolf Hitler’s personal secretary and she served him right until the bitter end. Claiming she was blind to the genocidal activities being carried out around her, Traudl Junge was a woman who spent the rest of her life battling to accept that the man who had dazzled her with his personality and kindness, was simultaneously bringing destruction to millions of people.

Wolf’s Lair is not a historical biography, but an examination of the ghosts of one woman’s conscience; a woman who served a mass murderer and yet does not fit into the polarized territory of the heros and the villains. A haunting portrait of an ordinary woman caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

BATS Theatre >>> Thu 26 Feb – Sat 7 March, 6.30pm, $16/ $12/$10
Book @ BATS >>> book@bats.co.nz / 04 802 4175   



Set and costume designer - Rose Morrison
Sound designer - Thomas Press
Lighting designer - Nathan McKendry
Lighting and sound operator - Eleanor Williams | Sam Bunkall (11/09)
Costume Construction - Rebekah Coburn
Publicity design - Edgar St (Gareth Williams)
Publicity photos - Andrew Kennedy
Publicity (Auck) - Elephant Publicity
Production photography - Philip Merry
Produced by Almost a Bird Theatre Collective | Phil Reed, Message Traders

You have to see it

Review by Uther Dean 02nd Dec 2009

Traudl Junge was unremarkable. She just wanted to be a ballerina but she ended up being Hitler’s secretary for the last three years of the second world war. Wolf’s Lair is the story of her life, her telling of it and the multiple truths that changing time and changing context put upon them.

Sophie Roberts’ solo performance is the very definition of a tour-de-force. A magnetic, pitch perfect rendition of a living breathing human being. Roberts is possessed of such profound focus and control that such simple and understated acts as the switching of reels on a tape player become deeply interesting and meaningful actions in and of themselves. She flicks between the different periods of Junge’s life with a precision and ease that reveals a brilliant and natural talent.

This is not our first visit to the Wolf’s Lair. The show originated with a season at BATS during the Fringe of this year before being reworked into a second incarnation that showed in Auckland in the middle of the year. This third step in the evolution of Wolf’s Lair is surely not its last. This process of revision and reworking has really benefited the work. All its major issues have been smoothed out or refined and whole new delicate series of new layers of meaning have been introduced into the work.

It has been tightened and restructured. With a newly heightened focus on the reflexivity of Junge’s story, of the layering and distortions that occur when a story is retold and retold. Junge listens to herself and her story on audio tape as shades of Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape pass welcomingly over the work. Taking place now entirely within a small island of tape with Roberts restricted to a single chair for a large chunk of the running time, there is a new directness and clarity to the work.

Willem Wassenaar’s direction shows the operatic flair, scale and fundamental understanding of the machinations and joys of the theatrical that is to be expected to emanate forth from his irrationally talented brain. There is still a slight issue with a climatic montage that does not seem to quite click together, relying a little too much on a cinematic grammar than a theatrical one. But apart from that one slight moment of shake, which we can be sure will smooth as the work progresses, this work is as much an achievement for Wassenaar as a director as it is for Roberts as a performer. It is a delightful statement of vision and control.

Nathan McKendry’s lighting is subtle and beautiful, drawing attention to action and emotion in a tender, controlled and unselfaware way. Thomas Press’ soundtrack of hammering typewriter keys is a perfect complement to the rest of the work.

Wolf’s Lair is a work of profound weight and space. A truly spellbinding fifty minutes. It is a giving experience, a rewarding experience. That the somewhat more conservative Circa – that is not a judgement on them, their work or their practice, they know their audience and give them what they want and there is nothing wrong with that – have programmed it is a sight towards the great potential, some of it clearly already achieved, of the up coming Wellington theatre scene.

If you like stories, you will like this play. If you like the theatre, you will like this play. If you like chocolate, you will like this play. If you like your favourite colour, you will like this play.

You have to see it.
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Guilt-driven portrait

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 30th Nov 2009

Wolf’s Lair is a locally written biographical play about a woman driven by the demon of guilt. First seen at Bats earlier this year, Sophie Roberts gives a remarkable performance (in 45-minutes) of Traudl Junge, a young woman who became Hitler’s secretary.

Long after the war Junge came across a statue in memory of a young German woman, Sophie Scholl, who was guillotined for her non-violent resistance to the Nazi Government in 1943.

This portrait (based on Junge’s memoir) deals with her insistence that she was an ordinary woman who had led an unspectacular life, despite her position at the heart of the Nazi regime. But nagging away is her “great guilt for liking the greatest criminal to have ever lived” and for being unaware of the terrible decisions that were being made all around her and that, like Sophie Scholl, she should have done something to mitigate the horrors.

Sophie Roberts’s monologue, punctuated by the pounding of a typewriter, is a riveting experience as she switches between a carefree young woman to a tortured old one who literally pushes away her guilt with arthritic gestures as she sits awkwardly in her chair.

A worthy revival.


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Outstanding interrogation of oneself

Review by Thomas LaHood 29th Nov 2009

A dramatic monologue performed in a black space, about a woman recollecting her life as the personal secretary of Adolf Hitler sounds like pretty daunting fare. What a relief to find Wolf’s Lair succinct and evocative, engaging without any hint of turgid overstatement.

Sophie Roberts and Willem Wassenaar have crafted a very successful solo work here that lures its audience in softly, then develops ever-so-subtle layers of depth until we are transported, fully but almost imperceptibly, into another way of perceiving. Then before the experience can be spoiled the performance is over, its themes still fully alive in our minds. 

This is the second Wellington season of this production. I wasn’t able to see the first incarnation but I understand one of the significant developments is that the performance is much more grounded in its central subject, the secretary Traudl Junge, with other characterisations whittled down to bare elements.

The process has been successful. The overwhelming quality of the work is its economy of language, the way a simple gesture or a repeated phrase can evoke not only a character but also instances or facets of that character, placements or displacements in time, qualities of memory and a surprisingly high degree of narrative context. I loved the way the work gradually became more abstract and dissolute without losing any of its emphasis or strength.

Of course, the effectiveness of this language succeeds entirely due to an outstanding performance by Sophie Roberts. Her skill in connecting with the audience is absolute, bringing us alongside the story despite the very static staging and frankly suffocating design aesthetic. She bodily inhabits her character in a way that extends the text’s ability to revisit itself with different eyes, to exist as multiple incarnations of itself at once. She is also immediately sympathetic, a quality that is vital for the moral uncertainty expressed in the subject matter.

It is Roberts’ performance that really gives us the greatest reward Wolf’s Lair has to offer us. Quite apart from the fascinating and unique story of Junge herself and the last days of the Nazi inner circle, we witness the universality of what it means to interrogate oneself. As Junge replays her memories over and over, trying to measure her own conscience, we see the erosion of all the illusions she has constructed to make sense of herself. And finally, we are confronted with the question of where to find any sense of personal responsibility amidst this fog of ego.

Sitting in the back row made sightlines a little difficult for me. Whatever business was done with the reels of audio tape strewn about the floor was lost to view, and whenever Roberts was seated (most of the performance) I had to sit at a peculiar angle to catch her. But it didn’t matter. Between Robert’s impeccable audience rapport and the slick, supportive sound effects designed by Thomas Press and operated by Sam Bunkall, I was taken elsewhere.
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Beautiful, thought-provoking theatre

Review by Candice Lewis 27th Aug 2009

The lone figure of Traudl Junge (Sophie Roberts) is hunched in a plain chair, and the floor sparkles with a seaweed sea of brown tape. Piles of large, old style reels sit on the floor, and to her left is a clunky old recording device. She wears a flawless, well-cut black dress, bends down and presses play, sharing the quiet voice of her youth.

These recordings allow both aspects of Junge to be interwoven: the young woman who longed to be a ballerina; the mature one struggling with regret and sadness at being Adolf Hitler’s personal secretary.

Robert’s performance focuses all my attention. She is a young, beautiful innocent just wanting to have an adventure in Berlin, then an arrogant, worn down woman of the world haunted by a corpse-littered past. She is bright and blank, then rippling with pain and regret, her face conjuring up members of Hitler’s inner circle with a mixture of love and horror.

I feel how impressed she is by the power, wealth and privileges of her surroundings, how kind her boss is to her, perhaps an indication of her longing for a tangible father figure. I am not repelled by her; her admissions loosen the face-tightening mask, and as it drops we find ourselves.

I do not mean that this somehow excuses Junge, but I do think it casts light on our motivations and fragile humanity. Devised by Willem Wassenaar and Sophie Roberts, it is unquestionably beautiful, thought-provoking theatre.

Wassenaar also directs, and obviously knows what he’s doing. Roberts movements seesaw between grace and grief-stricken robot. In doing so we are always reminded of her missed opportunities, to be a dancer, or perhaps a heroine.

The cast and crew of this Almost A Bird Theatre Collective production have done an amazing job. The sound design (Thomas Press), lighting and sound operation (Sam Bunkall), and costume construction (Rebekah Coburn) are all flawless.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 



Editor August 27th, 2009

To explain why her review is a day late, Candice tells this story: 

I am 15 minutes early for this play, and am impressed by the high proportion of German folk festively milling about.

After clearing up some confusion about getting in, I forget to grab a programme. The first scene opens with a creepy dance by young people wearing feathered masks. This must be a Nazi death dance; it’s so cold and calculated, yet it also strives for a semblance of eroticism.

As the play unfolds in fluent German, and a sparkling young woman calls out ‘Don Juan!’ from a balcony, I realise something is very fucking wrong. I sit agog for 30-odd minutes, wondering if this is a long, clever introduction on the subject of Hitler’s last secretary …

The usher is seated to my left, and after some urgent whispering I look at her programme, and my fears are confirmed. I’m in the wrong theatre, watching The German Drama Company present Don Juan. In an opportune darkened moment, I escape.  After much walking in the rain, wishing I hadn’t worn vintage high heeled boots, and slightly hysterical tears, I hope the Wolf’s Lair group will forgive me. They do, and I return the following night …

I do hope the audiences from the German Don Juan come along to Wolf’s Lair. There are no feather masks, but you are in for one very interesting dance.

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Illuminating pain and confusion

Review by Lynn Freeman 04th Mar 2009

Wolf’s Lair is one of Almost A Bird Theatre Collective’s best productions.

Devised by actor Sophie Roberts and director Willem Wassenaar, it’s based on the story of Traudl Junge. She was only 22 when she was forced to give up her hopes of being a ballerina like her sister, and was appointed Hitler’s personal secretary.

"My life has always been unspectacular" is the wonderful opening line. This play, rather than re-enacting her autobiography, shines a light on the pain and confusion she suffered – not at the time of the Nazi genocide, but when as an adult she finally started questioning and accepting her role in what happened around her.

Roberts brings so much to the role, showing Junge’s vulnerability, ordinariness, shame and strength. Wassenaar’s direction is beautifully subtle, while Thomas Press’ sound design, where the striking of typewriter keys distorts into gunfire, is miraculous.


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Life at the heart of the evil empire

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Mar 2009

Wolf’s Lair is a 40-minute fractured portrait and monologue, beautifully performed by Sophie Roberts, about the "unspectacular life" of a very ordinary woman who found herself in 1942 at the age of 22 working in Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair), Hitler’s headquarters.

Traudl Junge worked as Hitler’s secretary until the very end in the bunker in Berlin, even typing Hitler’s last private and political will and testament. Years later she admitted she felt "great guilt for liking the greatest criminal to have ever lived".

In the monologue, punctuated at times by the furious pounding of typewriter keys, Traudl attempts to explain to the audience and to herself her reasons for taking the job and her guilt for being so unaware of the terrible decisions that were being made all around her.

What Sophie Roberts makes so compelling is that one is always aware that Traudl is pushing, physically and mentally, the guilt away and it is to Roberts and Wassenaar’s credit that it is never explicit whether she feels any guilt or whether she’s simply reacting to the world which is certain that by being close to Hitler that she must be guilty. It’s a fascinating glimpse into an ordinary woman trapped in the very centre of the maelstrom of evil that was Nazi Germany.


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Consummate performance and strong production values

Review by John Smythe 27th Feb 2009

In an age where the global economy, terrorism, persistent warfare and planet-threatening environmental issues prevail, the phenomenon of Hitler’s Germany is often used to help us confront questions of individual responsibility. All these decades later, with the wisdom of hindsight, we get to ponder what we might have done in that situation and relate it to where we are now.

Recent examples seen in New Zealand include Albert Speer by David Edgar; The Devil’s Architect by Dolly Reisman; Berlin – Cabaret of Desire conceived by John Verryt, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Paul Barrett; A Bright Room Called Day by Tony Kushner; Faust Chroma by Werner Fritsch, translated & adapted by Peter Falkenberg & Ryan Reynolds. And The Producers by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan and The Man That Lovelock Couldn’t Beat by Dean Parker also connect us to that era.

Now Sophie Roberts and Willem Wassenaar bring us Wolf’s Lair,* an evocation of Traudl Junge who became Hitler’s secretary at 22, from 1942 until he and those close to him committed suicide in 1945, taking their children and dogs out with them.

Presumably Roberts and Wassenaar’s source material includes Junge’s book Until the Final Hour: Hitler’s Last Secretary, the German documentary Blind Spot in which she is interviewed at 80, and/or the German feature film Downfall (in which Bruno Ganz plays Hitler).  

"Wolf’s Lair is not a historical biography," its makers say, "but an examination of the ghosts of one woman’s conscience." As such it delivers a superbly performed 30-minute study of an ordinary woman caught up in extraordinary circumstances when she was young and innocent, but now haunted by what she was part of and unable to pinpoint when and where she could have realised what was going on.

"My life has always been unspectacular," she begins, more than once as she tries to locate her starting point: The job? Her father? Mother? Sister? Her aspirations as a ballerina? Her devotion to Gone With The Wind?

Moments of clarity offer points of human connection: her desire to get on with her adult life; her mixed feelings on leaving Munich and Mother for Berlin, the arts capital of Europe; her pleasure at being part of the party – the singing, dancing and drinking one rather than the political one …

Coherent verbal recollections are intercut with physically manifested fragments of memory. Some snippets of action, or a repeated sequence of frozen poses, can be recognised in the more substantive sections that follow. Such devices are tantalising bait to hook our further interest but not all materialise. At least not that I was aware. This is partly what makes me feel the work is unfinished.

There is some confusion as to whether Traudl is always being herself or sometimes enacting other roles. Is the prodding, pinching child her or someone else, and when and where are they in that moment? Is the stern rigid woman her ballet mistress, tutor at secretarial college, or Traudl herself in later life? Are these memories through which she attempts to escape or to find the missing parts of the puzzle? And if she is searching for answers, what exactly is driving her quest?  

A recurring image of cards being dealt has yet to communicate its meaning. Perhaps it has something to do with the role chance has played in her life, but I would prefer to get that in the moment rather than through thinking about it afterwards (something I probably would not have done if I had not been writing this review).

"I was never witness to a fit of rage," she claims. "He hated flowers because he did not like to be surrounded by dying things … I new nothing of ‘The Final Solution’…" (despite, presumably, working closely with Martin Boorman, National Socialist Party secretary, Hitler’s personal secretary and a fanatical anti-Semite). These are the statements that hook our interest but is it enough to just take them at face value?

On its own terms, Wolf’s Lair does dramatise a woman haunted by her proximity to a past she feels disconnected to even though it radically changed the world. And it certainly offers a platform for a virtuoso display of acting from Sophie Roberts, abetted by Rose Morrison’s costume and set designs (portals stuffed with baggage: an apposite image); Thomas Press’s powerful sound design; Nathan McKendry’s lighting; Eleanor Williams’ operating and, of course, William Wassenaar’s directing.

All the performance elements are dynamic and compelling. It’s the actor-director-devised text that does not allow us to get close to her experience or develop a clear enough understanding of the who, what, where and why of it all; that keeps us from empathising with her and/or considering what we might have done in that situation.

Perhaps part of the problem is that we are expected to already know the wider context of Hitler’s story as it relates to her particular one, which cannot be relied on. And even if we did know all that, it still needs to be made present within the play because a play creates its own universe. In short, a playwright is needed if this is to reach its potential as relevant theatre that fully engages a 21st century audience.  

Meanwhile it is well worth seeing for Sophie Roberts’ consummate performance and the strong production values.  
*Führerhauptquartier Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair) was Hitler’s Eastern Front military headquarters, located in what was then German East Prussia and most known for being the site of the Fuhrer’s attempted assassination. (Adolf, conflated from the Old High German adal and wolf, means ‘noble wolf’.) It is not the bunker in which Hitler, Eva Braun and the others ended their lives.


Danae Gardner April 2nd, 2009

Hi there, 
Just in support of the reviewer, I have just recently seen it, and while I also really loved the performance and thought that Sarah Roberts did a great job of the material, a lot of the plot was not tied together at the end for me either. The cards confused me also, so thanks for clearing that up, but I found myself wondering if she was playing multiple characters, or if she was portraying skitzophrenia tendencies (as i knew absolutely nothing about Traudl Junge. I would love to see it again, now that I've done some research on her and the situation, because it wasn't very clear to me what they were trying to say the first time.
Very enjoyable all the same, and the performance was so riveting that i almost don't mind the ambiguity!
[Sophie Roberts - ed.]

John Smythe February 28th, 2009

Thank you ‘Goat...’, it seems obvious now that I should have made that connection. I certainly heard the lines about the mother telling her children they were to be given injections to keep them healthy, and I’m clear that she played Solitaire after their murder. Perhaps I was noting too much detail, like all the cards being dealt face-up (not as in Solitaire) and all being court or ‘face’ cards … If there were five Queens and one Jack (representing the five daughters and one son) I was not close enough to see that.

I agree it is a “riveting performance” and a “brilliant piece of theatre” and feel sure it has the potential to evolve further. 

Goat in a Blizzard February 28th, 2009

Firstly I would like to point out that, in fact, all of the "tantalising bait" did materialise. At least it did for me anyway and I happen to be 18 years old and know relativly little about world war 2, Hitler, and his administration. I find it a tad depressing that I can fully understand and connect with a play far better than an experienced theatre reviewer. I found it very clear who each of Sophie's highly distinguished characters represented, especially as the play moved on. It was very clear that none of these were Traudl herself. However, John's comment about the "recurring image of cards being dealt" is his biggest blunder. Obviously he was paying no attention when it was clearly stated that MAGDA GOEBBELS KILLED HER CHILDREN AND THEN PLAYED A GAME OF SOLITAIRE! I find it disturbing that a theatre reviewer's attention would be elsewhere during the climax of the most riveting performance I have seen in years. I highly recommend this brilliant piece of theatre and hope you all go see it with a clearer head than John Smythe.

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