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
Andrew Wheaton as AntonAndrew Wheaton as Anton
Andrew Wheaton as Anton

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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