White Bear Theatre, London – until 16 November 2019
Different from the Others tells the true behind-the-scenes story of the first-ever pro-gay film, made in Berlin in 1919. This play celebrates the film’s 100-year anniversary. Claudio Macor shows incredible respect to the history of this ground-breaking film and the miraculous survival of the final print. If the Nazis had had their way, it would have been consigned to the ash-heap of history.
The play opens at a staccato pace, as if Macor is keen to dive into the meat of the story as quickly as possible. While I regret that we don’t get more time to see Klaus’ relationship with Dr Hirschfield for ourselves, this show covers a lot in its 90 minutes’ running time, and once the context is set, the action slows to a more emotionally resonant pace. By the time we get to the final scenes, I was close to tears, feeling so personally invested in the future of this film and its creators.
Jeremy Booth plays Dr Magnus Hirschfield, a gay sexologist who is fed up reading about young men who have killed themselves because they live in a world where they’re considered aberrations simply because they’re attracted to other men. Following the First World War, Germany is in political disarray and his ambition is to seize the opportunity in this chaos to influence public opinion and drive support for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Booth’s performance truly captures Hirschfield’s single-minded obsession in getting this film made. A true believer, he is relentless in his focus, as he believes that if his film saves even one life, he will have succeeded.
Simon Stallard plays Kurt Giese, the young ingenue of the film, with a beautiful sincerity. I want to avoid spoilers so all I will say is that this makes his story development all the more heartbreaking.
Christopher Sherwood, Jordan Alexander and Benjamin Garrison all give strong and convincing performances in their respective roles. However, it is Beth Eyre as the damaged and doomed Anita Berber who shines brightest. She is magnificent as this larger-than-life character. She lights up the stage whenever she is on it, and succeeds in making this self-destructive woman sympathetic, even while providing the comedic backbone of the play.
The reverence that Claudio Macor clearly has for the history he is sharing comes through very strongly and adds to the overall emotional impact of the play. I defy anyone not to be moved by Dr Magnus Hirschfield’s passion and commitment to changing the world for gay men, as well as the intertwining stories of Anita Berber and Kurt Giese.
Jenny Eastop’s direction keeps the action pacy, with scene changes simply highlighted by lighting changes. Ensuring there is a minimal need for set changes that might otherwise slow the play down. Hers is a dynamic and focused production.
‘Different from the Others’ is a must see for those with an interest in gay history. It is important to celebrate what Dr Magnus Hirschfield attempted to achieve, even if he was so far ahead of his time, the powers-that-be tried to silence and destroy his voice. So it feels all the more appropriate to close this review by quoting his words
“Love of the same sex is no less pure or noble than that of the opposite”