Black Swan State Theatre Company sets epic challenge for Brendan Hanson in I Am My Own Wife

Brendan Hanson as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.
Brendan Hanson as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

BRENDAN Hanson is a Perth performer who does not like to rest on his laurels and looks for ways to challenge himself wherever he can.

So when the WAAPA lecturer was approached by Kate Cherry while she was programming her last season as artistic director at Black Swan State Theatre Company to star in I Am My Own Wife, he jumped at the chance for the solo “extreme acting” role.

“It doesn’t get much more than 36 characters with 36 accents and 80 pages of script,” Hanson said.

“You don’t get many opportunities as an actor to flex your muscles to this extent.”

Hanson said the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play by Doug Wright had been on his radar long before the opportunity arose and described it as a beautiful, insightful, funny and moving piece of theatre.

“It’s a biographical piece about Germany’s most famous transvestite,” he said.

“The central character, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, survived the Nazis and the rise and fall of the Iron Curtain; the play investigates how she does that.

“It has 36 characters with the central ones her, the playwright Doug Wright who wrote himself into it and Charlotte’s dearest friend, Alfred Kirschner.”

Understandably, Hanson has had to prepare a lot longer than usual for I Am My Own Wife, starting a year ago to learn lines and research.

“I started by reading Charlotte von Mahlsdorf’s autobiography which was published in the early ’90s, just before she came up on Wright’s radar, and there is a documentary about the book,” he said.

“It was fascinating she survived two regimes who not just frowned upon the life of people who were trans or gay but exterminated them. It’s incredible she managed to thrive in that environment.”

Hanson said he never thought about being the only actor on stage because “there are 36 of us and I focus on being all those 36 people, rather than thinking it’s just me on my own”.

The timing of the season could not be more relevant.

“I hope people surrender some of their own judgement,” Hanson said.

“In this current political time with marriage equality and the neo-Nazi riots in Charlottesville, it’s just mad, and this story investigates all of that but in a clever and engaging way so that audiences aren’t told what to think; they’re going to have to make up their own mind. I think that’s a wonderful measure of the play.”

THE ESSENTIALS

What: I Am My Own Wife

Where: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA

When: October 12 to 29

Tickets: www.ticketek.com.au