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Frau Welt at Hackney Showroom: ‘This isn’t passively sitting in the dark, you’re engaged’

PUBLISHED: 16:22 06 October 2017 | UPDATED: 16:22 06 October 2017

Frau Welt. Picture: Holly Revell

Frau Welt. Picture: Holly Revell

Archant

Oliver Dawe talks about the drag/cabaret one man play, created with Peter Clements, Hackney Showroom’s first full length show produced in-house

Frau Welt. Picture: Holly Revell Frau Welt. Picture: Holly Revell

Earlier in the year, co-director of Hackney Showroom Sam Curtis Lindsay teased a new bit of writing, a “raucous political Weimer-inspired piece” that explores the difference between the art form and the audience.

It was to be their first funded full length play produced in house, something the venue had been dreaming of when they opened two years previously.

Now the dream has been realised and Frau Welt is running at Hackney Showroom.

“There is this famous Grande Dame of the theatre,” says Oliver Dawe, one of the show’s creators. “She’s an icon. You should know her like you Judi Dench and Angela Lansbury and Maggie Smith.”

Dawe is directing the two hour, one man/woman play with Peter Clements in the spotlight.

“She’s from Weimar Berlin. She retired from the theatre years ago and tonight she’s returning to the stage for one final performance to tell you her story. She’s coming back to Hackney Showroom to tell you her life story, because there’s some truth that has been omitted.”

The pair, associate artists at the venue, have known each other since drama school and Clements has had the character in his mind since nearly that long ago. Their involvement with Hackney Showroom began with the Frau herself.

“She is everything we hate: she’s completely right wing, she’s completely egotistical and maniacal and self-absorbed and she’s a racist and she’s homophobic and the hypocrisy of it all is this is two gay men making this character.

“You’re quite aware that this is a grotesque version of what these people are like in real life, so she will say some of the worst, highly conservative thoughts about immigrants, about race, and you’re absolutely aware that we’re pointing at it, and going: this is terrible.”

They haven’t left anything to chance either, and feel they know every part of her character.

“Peter has got this appendix,” says Dawe. “You know how at the end of Lord of the Rings there’s this appendix that’s about 50 pages long with all of the Elvish and the background for all the characters? This woman is completely realised – her history, who she is, what she’s done – it’s fully fleshed out.

“You have a character with a fully realised story that also has a meaning – theatre is full of symbol and metaphor and meaning – and we’re putting that together with a form that isn’t just sitting back in the dark, passively viewing something but actually being engaged with it and feeling like you are at a drag show but you’re in the theatre at the same time.”

They are driven by the motivation to make theatre accessible to people who might not normally feel comfortable going. He says this is something that this venue in particular does well: “Theatre is so daunting for most people, it feels intellectual, it feels high art, that if you’ve never been introduced to that, you just feel like you’re not entitled to see that. Hackney Showroom, their whole modus is to bring audience into the theatre to see work and art that doesn’t feel elitist, doesn’t feel like it’s not for them.”

Frau Welt runs at Hackney Showroom until October 21. hackneyshowroom.com/frauwelt

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