Hi-Lo Productions’s ‘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 its 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 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 Brahams’ could not have been a more heart-wrenching, absorbing piece of theatre. As a piece with so much sadness at it’s core, there is an overriding sense of fulfilment as a troubled soul finds peace before your eyes.
Written by @Kat_Anderson1