One hundred years ago in Weimar Republic and today’s Germany, Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld were determined to change history and politics, to save lives, with their very first pro-gay film ever made – Anders als die Andern that translates to Different from the Others. In celebration of that, Claudio Macor, the writer of The Tailor-made Man and Savage, masterfully resurrects the backstage story of the polemic film on the stage of London’s White Bear Theatre. The production is a celebration of history, and an act to give credit to the brave individuals who risked their reputations, and even lives, to go against the then-current laws under Germany’s Paragraph 175 that stated: “An unnatural sex act committed between persons of the male sex or by humans with animals is punishable by imprisonment; the loss of civil rights might also be imposed.”
Macor’s narrative stars Christopher Sherwood as the film director Richard Oswald (1880-1963), Jeremy Booth as Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), the sexologist, who join forces to write the film Different from the Others. Dr. Hirschfeld is portrayed as the initiating and the driving force behind the production; the goal for them at the time was to persuade the public to see Paragraph 175 as something immoral and misguided.
The play gives the audience access to the development as well as the casting process of the motion picture, and a glance to the behind the scenes process of the production as fully as possible, as surely some creativity and imagination were necessary due to incomplete information. The narrative is delicately intertwined with the personal lives of the characters – Stallard’s Giese finds himself falling in love with one of the young actors, while Eyre’s Berber, fuelled by addiction, seems to be merely tolerated on account of her talent.
The power of the storyline comes from the context and Macor as well as the director Jenny Eastop exquisitely let their dialogue speak for itself without relying hugely on sound effects. What fascinated me the most was their decision to make a stage production of the making of a motion picture, but perhaps that’s what made it work so well. They made effective use of the idea of gaze – male gaze, and the spectator’s gaze – both watching from the shadows. The gay characters were often placed in the shadows, watching, with Dr. Hirschfeld even asking his lover to ‘not stand in the shadows’. The spotlight represented pressure and heartbreak. The message is that different is the same, love is love, with the words ‘if it (the film) saves even one life that would be enough’ resonating throughout the play. The story ends in 2012 Ukraine with the discovery of the last copy of the motion picture – it was eventually forbidden at its time, and destroyed by the Nazis – and its smuggling to the States to ensure that the people behind the production didn’t sacrifice themselves in vain. Thanks to a restoration process the film was eventually shown at Outfest, an LGBT+ festival in Los Angeles, and then at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival, and is, of course, available now to anyone with internet access.
In all its complexities and thoughtfulness, the play was excellently executed. The story, despite the times being obviously more liberal and progressive today, is as relevant as ever. It speaks of love and eventually concludes that different is the same. I’m certain that Macor would have made Hirschfeld and Oswald proud.
Dir: Jenny Eastop
Scr: Claudio Macor
Cast: Jeremy Booth, Christopher Sherwood, Beth Eyre, Jordan Alexander, Simon Stallard, Benjamin Garrison
Run time: 90 mins
Venue: London’s White Bear Theatre