*** New Play ***
Rialto Theatre – 12 – 13 May 2018
Upstairs At The Gatehouse, Highgate – 7 – 9 September 2018
Being Brahms has just commenced a UK tour, see the reviews below:
Review from Underdog Reviews:
Hi-Lo Productions’ ‘Being Brahms’, written by Gail Louw, devised and developed with Paul Humpolitz, and directed and designed by John Burrows, is 80 minutes of one man’s pure desolation and torment. Andrew Wheaton plays Anton, an Austrian prisoner of both World Wars, trapped in the memory of his past and the man he has become as a result. Anton, somewhat schizophrenically, seeks comfort on his dark days it’s the persona of Viennese composer Johannes Brahms, a popular, generous and happy composer, a man in every way different from his doleful self. As a soldier who fought so hard to live in brief happiness, his story is panged with anguish and regret, a lifetime of chasing love and kindness; from a traumatic childhood to having a child of his own – the abused who became the abuser.
Set solely in the parameters of a dusk-pink carpeted bedroom, simply furnished with a bed, chair, mirror and gas fire, Burrows’ design is a world away from the artistic and once-passionate character which inhabits it. Wheaton brings a powerful, focused energy to the role, as well as an exquisite Austrian accent, and is a commanding and poignant presence in the bare space. Minus the first few minutes of silence which opened the performance, Anton’s stream of consciousness seemed to leap from one thought to the next; as an audience member, it would have been nice to take a few seconds of stillness to reflect – his piteous life deserved few moments of empathy. The realisation that the man on stage was not Brahms himself, but conversing as two different people, didn’t hit until about half way through the performance, so perhaps a more worked differentiation would have been more compelling from the outset. Wheaton’s physicality was so striking; fragile and nervous, a 70 year old housebound shell of a man. Giving homage to Brahms himself, classic music was sprinkled in his memories, which offset the weight of his instability and self-destruction.
As a first visit to a one-man performance, ‘Being Brahms’ could not have been a more heart-wrenching, absorbing piece of theatre. As a piece with so much sadness at its core, there is an overriding sense of fulfilment as a troubled soul finds peace before your eyes.
REVIEW: A captivating and challenging one-man play about fathers, sons and Brahms
Being Brahms. Written by Gail Louw, directed by John Burrows, performed by Andrew Wheaton, The Rialto Theatre, Brighton, April 12-13 Being Brahms, Hove playwright Gail Louw’s latest, was on at the delectable Rialto last week. After her sell-out Mitfords, this was a must-see. The heartfelt one-man show is about a dad called Anton, his tough life in 20th century Europe and his love for the music of Johannes Brahms. In a world of Nazis, internment and his own loveless marriage, Anton tries to make sense of everything, but being Brahms seems like a much better option…I do like a set and this one was busy – a single bed, gas fire, mirror, chair and a strip of wallpaper that became a metaphor for the protagonist’s life and mind: wildly askew.
From the start, with Anton’s struggle to get up, actor Andrew Wheaton’s performance was riveting. We were aghast flies on the wall as Anton’s old limbs stirred, as he fumbled while putting on his slippers and stood in an appalling long johns outfit.
A key prop was his coat and in it Anton underwent some change. The coat soothed him, not just because of Brahms’ music but also because the composer was a kindly gent. But Anton was not Brahms. Andrew Wheaton, known as ‘an actor of all parts’, played only Anton. This was a soliloquy. The temptation must have been to transition into the different personae as he conversed with Brahms and Clara Schulmann (his escape routes) and with his family. But Anton wanted to be real, to offer up the dark side of his father/son cycle of violence. He wanted to stop it, to do one good thing.
Anton’s soliloquy was dramatically enlivened by doing things like beating with a heavy blanket to relive punishments suffered and perpetrated. The soliloquy was also expressive, featuring debonair moments with Brahms and conveying the awkwardness of negotiating with his estranged wife and son. Throughout the show it developed into a gripping performance thanks to director John Burrows and Andrew. Gail Louw loves “the creative act of inhabiting another life” and with her we stepped into Anton’s shoes. The audience was being Anton, muddling through his repentance.
It was certainly a challenge. There was a Q&A session afterwards and some said they were often confused. Anton, Brahms, time-switches; we are not used to observing the switchback ride a mind travels, as the current debate about mental health shows.But a HiLo production like this is not a quick buzz; it’s a play that remains with you.
Interview with star of the production, Andrew Wheaton:
ANDREW WHEATON on Being Brahms
Andrew Wheaton stars in award-winning playwright Gail Louw’s new one-man drama, Being Brahms. Blending a universal, heartfelt story about fathers and sons with the wondrous music of Johannes Brahms, this powerful production opens at Epsom Playhouse on March 24, before touring to London and the south east.
Once described by The Stage as an actor of all parts, Andrew Wheaton has played everything from a dead body in a comedy thriller to multi-role ensemble work, and major roles in productions as diverse as Shakespeare and musicals in the West End and New York.
Now he talks to us about his latest role, which sees him play Anton – and his alter ego Brahms – in a gripping new one-man show. So how does Andrew feel about the challenge of being the only man on stage and yet playing two very different characters simultaneously?
“It’s a fascinating piece and it’s always a privilege to work on a new play. Anton is going through an identity crisis so there is this swopping of identities that occurs throughout the play. “With two characters, it’s making me a bit of a split personality. I come home from rehearsals being a bit like whoever I’ve been rehearsing as, so my wife’s never quite sure who’s going to walk in through the door at the moment!
Being Brahms introduces us to Anton, a hapless man besieged with misfortune. The way he attempts to cope with his situation is to escape into another world: the world of composer and musician Johannes Brahms. But why Brahms?
“Anton views Brahms as someone who had kind, loving parents and he wrote beautiful music which made him very successful, so he sees Brahms as a man who had it all. He had a brilliant life: the type of life that Anton might have liked for himself.
“He escapes to somewhere he can enjoy the music and being completely different to the person he is. It’s so much nicer to be Brahms than Anton, and this escapism provides him respite and gives him a hiding place. It means he doesn’t have to face reality for a little while.”
If you were going to escape into someone else’s world, whose would it be?
“I don’t know (laughs)! But I do know that it’s probably one of the reasons why I like acting! As an actor it’s great to be able to jump into other characters and hide in them for a while and find out what they’re about. And then it doesn’t matter how lovely or how horrible they are, you want to defend them to the hilt. You suddenly empathise with them, so even if they do terrible things, you want to find a reason why so that you can defend their actions. You try to look after and nurture your characters and help them along.”
Gail’s script covers a sweep of historical events from the 20th century – how do you think Anton’s experiences of these events shape his character?
“Anton really does go through a lot: he fights in the First World War, he is a prisoner of war in Russia and then in the Second World War he escapes to England – and the English intern him in a camp on the Isle of Mann.
“The internment camp actually turned out to be an amazing creative hub, but this respite was relatively short-lived and when Anton was returned to London, he had no money and no employment so post-war life was incredibly difficult.”
As well as trying to come to grips with the world, Anton’s also trying to come to grips with being a father…
“His relationship with his son is important to him, but he’s mucked it up. And he’s mucked it up in just the same way his own father mucked up their relationship. The father-son relationship is such a difficult thing and he’s trying to come to terms with it and make it better somehow.”
What do you think the inclusion of Brahms’ music within the play adds to the audiences’ experience?
“The music is important because you feel things through the music – and that’s how people relate to Brahms, so it helps define the character. Music is a way for people to express things which they can’t always say with words and there are moments here where you think, maybe the music does more than anything that is said.
“Although this is Anton’s story, you’ll find out things you probably didn’t know about Brahms too. He’s best remembered and indeed celebrated for playing quite formal, classical music, but he had quite a colourful upbringing and he was a complex character. And while Anton’s search for resolution is moving, we are finding jolly moments too! Something you think is going to be terribly sad actually becomes hysterical so there are some lovely, unexpected moments – it’s not all tragic!”
Opinion – from The Stage with Jeff Thomson
The Mitfords has just finished a UK tour, having opened in Brighton on 14th November 2017. A few reviews below:
Local Playwright Wows Audiences Again With ‘The Mitfords’
Gail Louw’s new play opened to a full house on both nights at the Rialto recently. It fulfils the flyer’s promise: an ‘astonishing tour de force’; and has won Arts Council funding for a tour, next on Tuesday 28th at The Hawth, Crawley.
‘The Mitfords’ appear through the medium of a single actress. John Burrows’ (Director/Designer) deceptively simple set is an open cube of metal rails, a black space, a low dais, and suspended above, ‘tokens’ connected with the sisters.
In an extraordinary hour, the remarkable Heather Long metamorphoses sinuously into 4 of the notorious sisters: from sister to sister – from one time to another – from one place to another – outrageous, distressing, astonishing: riveting. Beware the craft in this production, right from the start – but no spoilers here!
Gail is known for her interest in flawed characters, but her interest in challenging her audience is pronounced in ‘The Mitfords’. The most remarkable feat of this production is Heather’s subtle movement from one sister to another, achieved without costume change, without reference to the tokens: through a deep empathy with each sister. Who is who? Diana’s voice was easiest to ‘spot’, but I recognised – ‘oh right, Jessica…’ – in a split second – through slight physical or facial movements, turns of phrase – fascinating skill!
‘The idea for a one-woman show came right at the start,’ Gail explains. What emerges is a synthesis of the sisters, and a dramatic journey through key events of WW2.
2018 marks the Centenary of the first British women to vote. Undoubtedly, the Mitfords will feature. Love them, hate them? I had that ‘little knowledge’ about these strong sisters that is embarrassing in a conversation. Our Arts Council rightly supports plays that inspire further reading and thought, as this does. Can’t get to a production? Gail’s second book of plays is launched on 21st January. Respect!
Reviewed by: Naomi Pitkeathly
The subtle use of props and the superb direction that enabled the lives of such interesting personalities to be portrayed was amazing.
A thoroughly amusing and interesting evening at the Rialto Theatre in Brighton.
Review from: Maxine Toff for Sussex Jewish News
After spending much of her early life as an academic, GAIL LOUW turned her hand to playwriting – a talent which has gained her a reputation as a multi-award-winning playwright today, with her work being performed throughout the world.
Gail’s award-winning plays include Duwayne, which won Best New Play at Brighton Fringe; Blonde Poison which won an Argus Angel for Artistic Excellence, Best of the Fest at the San Francisco Fringe and was the flagship production at the Hilton Arts Festival in South Africa; and Miss Dietrich Regrets which won a Naledi Award. She has also enjoyed huge success with Killing Faith, Joe Ho Ho, Two Sisters, Shackleton’s Carpenter, And this is my friend Mr Laurel and The Half Life of Love.
We caught up with the Brighton-based playwright before her latest play The Mitfords arrives at Stantonbury Theatre, and we were keen to learn how she goes about choosing a topic on which to write a play?
“It is varied”, explains Gail. “From an experience you have yourself, a story you might read or hear about, or simply getting your imagination going and conceiving characters, experiences, events, dilemmas. Or you pick up a book and find all those characters and experiences and events just waiting for you. And this was the case with this play.
“I was browsing Brighton Library’s biography section and came across a book about the Mitford sisters. I knew about them well enough and pounced on the idea. I tend to write about flawed characters; they excite me more than black and white heroes or villains. And all the sisters could certainly be described as people who were far from perfect. However, that was what made them so interesting.
“The more I read, the more I realised there’s just so much of interest about these women. Of all my plays, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed the process of reading and learning about it more than with The Mitfords; I’ve found it absolutely fascinating.”
The six Mitford sisters lived in the 20th century. Diana was married to Oswald Mosley and a lifelong fascist. Unity was a great close friend of Hitler’s. Jessica was a dyed-in-the-wool communist. Deborah became Duchess of Devonshire. Nancy was a well-loved novelist. Pamela kept chickens. And much of their varied lives were synchronous with major events that defined that period.
With the topic of her next play chosen, why did Gail decide the incredible tale of these fascinating sisters would be best presented through the mechanism of a one-woman play?
“So that I would be able to cover all of the stories with their diversity and range of extreme political and social opinion – the sisters were all such big characters in their own right.
“And also that it would be a theatrical tour de force! It’s a challenge for one actress to play multiple characters who all sound the same, with very little to distinguish them by accent, class or language used – but equally, a one-woman play rewards you with much more freedom. The sisters can interact or talk to themselves; they can talk about their own lives and their reactions to the others. You can play with time and there aren’t any constraints.”
Naturally one of the major themes explored in The Mitfords is the political issues of the 20th century and just how the sisters developed such fiercely opposing views when forming their personal ideas about humanity, communism, fascism and Nazism.
“Unity and Jessica shared a bedroom and they divided that room into fascism versus communism: on the one side was the swastika and on the other side hung the hammer and sickle flag. It was always like that from a very young age, and yet there was an intense connection between the two sisters and a real love, in spite of their opposing principles.”
As we might expect from a story about The Mitfords, the play also explores what it is like to be a sister, a daughter, a mother and – perhaps most intriguingly – a wife.
“Their relationships are fascinating. All of the sisters gave up things for a man: the men in their lives were terribly important and they all suffered – in their own distinctive ways – for love.”
And what is it that Gail hopes that audiences take away from their evening with The Mitfords?
“I am sure this play will particularly appeal to many who are interested in a unique, challenging and exciting approach to telling the Mitford sisters’ story. I hope audiences thoroughly enjoy the theatrically of it all and that they find these sisters just as fascinating and captivating I do.”
Two Sisters went on tour to five UK venues in February/March 2017.
TWO SISTERS was on at Theatre 40, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles from 21 January to 21 February. Directed by Stewart J Zully, it stars Leda Siskind as Edith, and Sharron Shayne as Rika. First performed in 2010 in Eastbourne and Brighton. Rika and Edith are very different sisters. Their lives have been very different. Edith is feisty and has a zest for living that is reflected in the political commitment she has had all her life to socialism and Zionism. Rika is very different. She is concerned about her health and a million worries that afflict her. She tries to temper her sister’s idealism by pointing out the reality of life on a kibbutz today; privatisation. ‘If I were as close to death as it (socialism) is, all my worries would be over too’ she tells her sister. The playscript is available in the book GAIL LOUW: COLLECTED PLAYS.
‘Gail Louw had us roaring with laughter at the sharp jibes the two threw at each other. Familiar territory for many in the audience I thought from the gales of laughter.’ (Sussex Jewish News, 2017)
‘Two Sisters has the ability to make you simultaneously laugh, gasp and cringe, an interesting journey with an engaging plot. If you’re able to catch this play before it finishes its current run, tomorrow – go!’ (Break A Leg, 2017) – Full review here: Two Sisters Review
Blonde Poison is based on the true story of a Jewish woman during World War II who betrayed up to 3,000 fellow Jews. Gail Louw’s powerful play examines the motivation of evil. Stella Goldschlag was living illegally in war-torn Berlin when she herself was betrayed and tortured. When offered the chance of saving herself and her parents from the death camps, she agreed to be a ‘Greifer’ for the Gestapo and inform on Jews in hiding. She was extraordinarily successful in this and her activities increased after her parents had finally been deported. The playscript is available in the book GAIL LOUW: COLLECTED PLAYS. See Books above.
Recent reviews for Blonde Poison from the 2017 four week run in Johannesburg:
Reviews and interviews for the production of Blonde Poison at Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland LIVE, Auckland, Until 2 Sep 2017
Radio interview with Elizabeth Hawthorne who plays Stella in the NZ production: Radio New Zealand – Blonde Poison
Visit the website here: Blonde Poison
Purchase a copy of the book here: Blonde Poison Book
MISS DIETRICH REGRETS
Marlene Dietrich was one of the most famous movie stars of all time. She became a legend, an icon, without apparently ever growing old. ‘Miss Dietrich Regrets’ is a revealing and poignant new look at the aging Marlene, alone in a Paris apartment, battling with her daughter to retain her independence to the very end. The playscript is available in the book GAIL LOUW: COLLECTED PLAYS. See Books above. To see an excerpt of the play, click here. https://www.dropbox.com/s/55rjmbf3swrlgf8/small%20marlene%20video.mp4?dl=0
Miss Dietrich Regrets opened in Prague on 26 May 2017. Here are some photos from the premiere: Miss Dietrich Regrets Premiere – Prague
A review for Miss Dietrich Regrets: https://artscomments.wordpress.com/2015/06/20/miss-dietrich-regrets-is-one-of-the-top-shows-of-2015/
He challenged ‘The Boss’ in the ice floes of Antarctica. Now again, alone and destitute in the middle of a still night, he challenges him one last time. Shackleton’s Endurance sank in Antarctica, leaving him and his crew of 27 stranded. Harry McNish, Shackleton’s carpenter and brilliant shipwright, challenged The Boss, but went all the way with him, ensuring all lives were saved after a journey universally agreed to be the most astonishing voyage of survival in history. The playscript is available in the book GAIL LOUW: COLLECTED PLAYS.
Visit the Shackleton’s Carpenter website here: Shackleton’s Carpenter
Traumatised by his best friend’s murder, Duwayne Brooks was treated as a potential criminal instead of a witness. He faced years of torment by those who should have been on his side. Harassed by police on trumped up charges and hounded incessantly over the years, Duwayne faced the impossible struggle of challenging what life appeared to have in store.
THE HALF LIFE OF LOVE
The Half Life Of Love was performed in Salem, Oregon in May 2017.
What happens when love is over, and who are the ones who suffer most? Alex is disturbed one night when a 17 year old turns up late at night at his front door. What has happened to this boy who once was so important in his life? What has caused him now to be homeless, desperate yet still ready and eager to love him. This three hander explores damaged relationships and toxic fallouts.
‘A very different production is offered by The Verona Studio with the US Premier of British playwright Gail Louw’s “The Half-Life of Love.”
In a seamless presentation that blends strong direction and riveting performances, the play progresses from revelation to revelation, as withdrawn middle-aged Alex is visited one night by the 17-year old adopted son of her abusive ex-partner. Complications ensue in the examination of adopted children and the effects of abuse on vicims and the youth who witness it.
An excellent cast enacts the consequences, with Pamela Bilderbeck as the soulful Alex, Barry Saxton as the defiant Conner and Raissa Fleming as the relentlessly villainous Eamonn. It’s a superb drama about love and loss, uniquely suited to the intimate ‘Black Box’ of the Verona Studio stage.’ (Salem Weekly, 2017)
Links to previews of Half Life Of Love in Salem:
…AND THIS IS MY FRIEND, MR LAUREL
Last August Jeff fulfilled a long-time ambition when he trod the boards as one of the worlds best loved comedy stars, Stan Laurel. He portrayed his idol in a new one-man play ‘….And this is my friend Mr Laurel’ co-written by the award-winning playwright Gail Louw and Jeff himself. The play debuted on Wednesday 21st August, at Upstairs At The Gatehouse and running until Sunday 25th August. The production then played at The Tabard Theatre in October. Such has been the response that Jeff is now touring the country with this amazing piece of theatre.
JOE HO HO
The parallels of Linda’s life are extreme;; on the one hand is the deep despair of life with a demented mother. On the other is a life of passion and sex with Joe – the man of her dreams.
Herschel is a story of heroism amongst ordinary and extraordinary people, of impotence in the face of national and personal brutality, and of gestures, both meaningless and poignant which have resonated with historical developments. This is a play about a boy who responded to a situation of tragedy and horror for his family and his people by taking an extreme step, the same sort of step that a boy in similar circumstances today might take by becoming a suicide bomber.
This play was developed and devised with Felicity Dean. The play had a rehearsed reading at The Print Room in London in 2014.
MY BEAUTIFUL ARSE
This play with music and dance is set in Cameroon and Brighton. Mussole is a young man who transcends through music, dance and laughter the horrors of being gay in Africa.
Billy Green, a lonely 17 year old, has run away from his home in London to an aunt by marriage, Gertrude in Kiryat Shemona, a frontier town in Israel. Since his mother died, his father, Alfred Green, a brusque man of 53, has stopped talking to him. Alfred’s anger at events around the time of Billy’s mother’s death has caused huge tensions in their house and questions to which Billy seeks answers.
TELL ME WHERE IT HURTS
Set in a medical school, this play explores the reaction of an unfairly dismissed lecturer and his relationship with the head of his department.
STEPS OUT OF TIME
The play (also known as SHABAT IN ZFAT) takes place over a Friday night and Saturday at a bus terminal in the Northern Galillee town of Zfat, Israel in 1960. A lone woman traveller in her thirties meets three men ‘hanging about’ at the bus terminal. The dysfunctional quartet engage in initial light-hearted banter which becomes rather more serious and perilous. There was a rehearsed reading of this play funded by the Arts Council.