Different from Others, White Bear Theatre

At the end of the First World War there existed a moment, a mere 20 months when Europe was liberal and free. Men held hands in public, Moscow and St Petersburg were gay and free from discrimination, Germany feeling the full brunt of blame had yet to establish itself. In that minute window of opportunity came something quite extraordinary.

Claudio Macor’s Different from Others is about the 1919 German silent film, which aimed to use the medium of film to revoke legislation, Paragraph 175, that may have lead to a rise to male suicides. Dr Magnus Hirshfeld (Jeremy Booth), a famed sexologist funds this project after the suicide of a client he was close to. Working with acclaimed director Richard Oswald Different from Others was a sympathetic portrayal of homosexual relationships, its story line would later be used for the groundbreaking Victim (1961) starring Dirk Bogarde. Whilst the 1961 was cited as a reason for the decriminalisation of homosexuality Different from Others took a different path, as copies of the film were burned, Dr Hirshfeld was banished from third reich and many of its stars fled Nazi Germany for Hollywood or died in tragic circumstances.

Whilst the play is at its strongest when talking about the making of the picture it falls apart when looking at the cast and crew’s relationships. The scenes between ex lovers Anita Berber (Beth Eyre) and matinee idol Conrad Veidt (Jordan Alexander) and lovers Magnus and, a fictionalised version of actor Karl Giese, Kurt Giese are created to set up unnecessary conflict. Conflict between Veidt and Oswald, which seems to unfairly imply Veidt could only act depending on his current emotions and conflict between the fictionalised Giese, who becomes a Nazi officer (Spoiler: he didn’t). It feels really unnecessary to create this conflict, when the real life relationship between them is far more interesting

The real conflict comes from the censorship of this work from the organisations Hirshfield thought he could trust. The scene between Hishfeld and his Institute of Psychiatry colleague (Benjamin Garrison) is a reminder that the Weimar Republic wasn’t ready to follow nations such as France and Italy to decriminalise same sex attraction.

It is ironic that a play about the censorship of a work about homosexuality seems to erase Anita Berber’s bisexuality, portraying her as a damaged addict recovering from her relationship with Veidt. Berber becomes the focal point of the excesses of the time with her kilner jars of cocaine and her indulges with co-star Reinhold Schunzel (played by Benjamin Garrison), who on screen plays the blackmailer but in real life is all about opulence and camp.

There are some issues with the dialogue; it often feels like people reading out their lines rather than finding the emotion within the characters and the contradictory times they lived in. It was often too quick and lacking meaning, which naturally affected the performances. It is hard to play over the top and over indulged characters whilst being natural but I was impressed with Jeremy Booth as Dr Magnus, whose empathy is let down by an unjust society, Eyre as the tortured Berber and Garrison in his dual roles. The most moving scene was the retrieval of a final copy as Ukraine was going through its conflict, with Hirshfeld going to his grave believing that this work had been forgotten. This is worth seeing for film and LGBT+ history buffs but it is a shame its purpose isn’t as thoughtful and considered as the work it is based on.

Different from Others is on at the White Bear Theatre until 16 November 2019 https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/whatson/Different-From-The-Others

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