This one-man bio-drama arrives from New York piled high with awards: a Pulitzer Prize, Obies and Tonys for Doug Wright's script, Moisés Kaufman's directing, and Jefferson Mays' performance. The hype makes one expect a little more of this portrait of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (né Lothar Berfelde), Berlin's controversial antique-collecting transvestite who died in 2002.
Her life story is remarkable. She survived Germany's repressive Nazi and Communist regimes, supposedly assassinating her abusive Fascist father en route. After reunification, she was much cherished and was awarded a medal for preserving formerly-banned artifacts. Then, however, Stasi files were opened, naming her as an informer.
The downside of this production is that it leaves one cold at first. The set initially looks drab and bare, before a great stack of ornate furniture is illuminated. Mays's role-swapping - playing the aged Charlotte in a dowdy frock, the young fawning playwright come to interview her, and others from her past - is also less dazzling than Conleth Hill's Olivier-winning mercurial performance in Stones In His Pockets, at this theatre. That said, this play's dark twist and the ironic tensions are strong: the preserver/destroyer; the obsessive bygones-hoarder with a devastating past. This all comes into focus by the end and you are, unsettlingly, left guessing which of her anecdotes and alibis were true, which compulsive fabrications.
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