Theatrical Lives from Vienna to London:

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Visual Arts

Theatrical Lives from Vienna to London: – Treasures from the Miller Archive Exhibition

  • 19 Jun 2013 — 30 Aug 2013
Imported 1814
Imported 1814

University of London

Senate HouseMalet StreetLondon WC1E 7HU

UK

http://www.london.ac.uk/

The lives of refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe now seem to us extraordinary: leaving behind family and friends, taking with them from their homeland little more than the will to resist, they rebuilt their lives in an alien and sometimes unwelcoming society. Yet many, like Jewish actors Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert-Miller, who left Vienna after the German annexation of Austria 75 years ago, went on to achieve significant success in their adopted country. Indeed the Millers’ story is representative of many of those whose youthful hopes and early successes are shattered by repressive regimes, and who come to Britain seeking refuge from persecution. Like the Millers, such refugees often find the strength to succeed against the odds and go on to make a make a rich contribution to British intellectual and cultural life.

The exhibition traces the Millers’ lives from pre-war Vienna, where Hannah was a promising young graduate of the famous Reinhardt drama school and Martin had a well-established acting and directing career, built over 17 years of working in German-language theatres across Central Europe. Leaving Austria in 1938, Hannah moved first to Paris to find work in film and then to the UK, to which she was only admitted at her second attempt in 1939. Martin, meanwhile, moved from Vienna to the very heart of the Third Reich to work in the last Jewish theatre still functioning in Germany: the Jüdisches Kulturbund in Berlin. He later described his performances there as an attempt to keep ‘something alive in the very jaws of death’.

Martin was granted asylum in the UK in March 1939 and, despite being labelled an ‘enemy alien’ by the government on the outbreak of war, he and Hannah were driven by a desire to fight the National Socialist regime. They became central figures in the Austrian exile theatre, the Laterndl, whilst also writing and presenting anti-Nazi propaganda material for the BBC’s German-language radio for secret listeners in Nazi-occupied Europe. Highlights from the collection on show include scripts and photographs of productions by the Laterndl, and scripts of Martin’s biting parodies of Hitler speeches, which were broadcast to Germany between 1940 and 1942.

The material on display presents a record of the Millers’ lives in post-war Britain, where Hannah worked for the BBC’s German Service, and Martin established himself on the British performing arts scene. In the 30 years between his arrival as a non-English-speaker in the UK in 1939 and his death in 1969, Martin played in over 50 British films, more than 50 television programmes, and at least 40 West End theatre productions, including a three-year run in the original cast of The Mousetrap at London’s Ambassadors Theatre. Through the 1950s and 60s, Martin’s reputation as a prolific character actor, skilled at playing both comic and tragic roles, assured the couple a place within the best-known circles of British drama, as the letters in the collection from Richard Attenborough, Peggy Ashcroft and Michael Redgrave testify.

This exhibition illustrates the Millers’ lives with a selection of scripts, photographs, letters, theatre programmes and other items from the Miller Archive at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies (IGRS). The Archive was deposited at the IGRS after Hannah’s death in 1998 and, with generous funding from the Miller Trust, is currently being sorted and catalogued. Many of the items in the collection are only now being systematically identified and contextualised, and this is the first time that they will be displayed.