White Bear Theatre, London – until 16 November 2019
The past often offers a convenient intellectual space which we can all look down upon and feel smug about how far we have come in moral terms. Different From The Others gleefully kicks us off our moral high ground.
The play tells the remarkable story of the creation of Anders als die Andern, a German, silent movie from 1919 that has claimed its place in cinema history for being the first film to portray homosexuality positively.
When one considers that, even today, Hollywood still has a major problem in accepting that a film could have a homosexual protagonist and be successful, it is astonishing that a film produced in the Weimar Republic could have a gay, male character as its protagonist, with a storyline that has a gay couple as its ‘good guys’ and a blackmailer who persecutes the couple simply for being homosexual as its ‘bad guy’.
This is an engaging, thoroughly entertaining play about an important, compelling subject
Different From The Others briskly and efficiently tells the story of the film’s creation, from the initial motivation for writing it – a renowned, German sexologist responding to the tragic death of a young man ashamed of his homosexuality – through its filming, the demonstrations that accompanied its screening, its banning in 1920, and the destruction of all copies by the Nazis. Well, not quite all.
The performances are very good. Jeremy Booth is the protagonist, the famous sexologist Doctor Magnus Hirschfeld (inventor of the term ‘transvestite’), whose horror at the way homosexual men are treated by society drives him to co-write and co-fund a film that aims to portray homosexual love as natural and as worthy of respect as any other kind of love.
Christopher Sherwood plays Austrian director Richard Oswald (better known for his 1932 classic, Unheimliche Geschichten), who takes on the film at a time when many other directors would have baulked at its content. Jordan Alexander makes for a handsome Conrad Veidt (famous for his unforgettable role as the murderous somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari), who has to carry the film as the problems mount.
Benjamin Garrison gives a wonderfully louche portrayal of Reinhold Schünzel, who played the film’s blackmailer, while Beth Eyre is superb with her equally Bohemian portrayal of Anita Berber, the famously bisexual, androgynous, cabaret dancer and actress, providing pathos with her tragic disintegration under drug and alcohol addiction. There was, of course, more to Weimar Germany than merely the decadence of Berlin cabaret, but Garrison and Eyre encapsulate that recherché world beautifully, lighting up the stage with their energy.
The performances are very good
Finally, there is a terrific, subtle performance from Simon Stallard as Kurt Giese, the innocent young actor who first becomes Hirschfeld’s lover then transforms into something else entirely, a subplot that provides the moral antithesis to the main theme.
No play is perfect. While the dialogue is intelligent, it can be overly expositional, with characters reporting events rather than the play showing them, with the result that several scenes lack drama (though it must be said that not a single scene fails to entertain). However, given the sheer amount of material the play compresses into ninety minutes, these are minor quibbles.
Overall, this is an engaging, thoroughly entertaining play about an important, compelling subject. It’s exactly one hundred years since Anders als die Andern was produced, and director Jenny Eastop and especially writer Claudio Macor are to be praised for bringing this story alive on stage, for its central message is hardly less relevant in 2019 than it was in 1919. As Hirschfeld movingly exhorts in the play: “Find honour and truth in being yourself.”
Different From the Others runs from 29 October to 16 November 2019 at the White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Rd, Kennington, London SE11 4DJ, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are priced £12-16. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!