Brendan Hanson Plays 36 Characters In I Am My Own Wife

Charlotte von Mahlsdorf's life story is an incredibly fascinating one – or at least how she tells it.

Image © Robert Frith

It is the subject of famed American playwright Doug Wright’s award-winning work ‘I Am My Own Wife’, brought to life by Black Swan State Theatre Company, local Director Joe Lui and the star of the show (and sole cast member!) Brendan Hanson.

Here, he answers some questions about playing not only the transgender character of Charlotte but 35 others!

First of all, tell us a little bit about 'I Am My Own Wife' in your own words.

It's the true story of Germany's most famous transvestite, Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf. She was awarded the medal of honour for her efforts at preservation of the Gründerzeit period through her Museum in Mahlsdorf.

You're playing every character in this show. How on earth do you do it?

There are 36 characters all with accents and as mad or impossible as that sounds it's actually a lot of fun. I am also possibly in a bubble of delusion induced by the pursuit of said 36 characters!

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Image © Daniel James Grant

This show has a particular focus on Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a transgender woman. What's it like playing a role like this, were you able to learn anything from any transgender people you might now?

Exploring the play and Charlotte's life affirmed many things I have learnt from transgender friends. The challenges non cisgender people face everyday for acceptance and acknowledgement. 'I Am My Own Wife' explores this so succinctly. The emphasis is on Charlotte's humanity, that she survived the Third Reich and the rise and fall of the iron curtain is astounding. One of the proudest moments Charlotte experienced was when she was awarded the medal of honour for her conservation efforts, the fact that she was trans was inconsequential to what she did, it was simply a fact of who she was.

What sorts of things have you done to prepare for 'I Am My Own Wife'?

I read Charlotte's autobiography and the writing of Magnus Hirschfeld. As a high school student I remember the day the Berlin Wall fell, and the impact it had on my teachers, their reaction inspired me to understand what it meant. It was a turning point in history and woke me up to world politics.

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Image © Daniel James Grant

Do you think it's important to show LGBT+ influencers not just from current times but from the past? Why?

Of course. To understand where we are and how we got here we have to look to the past, otherwise we don't progress. My director Joe Lui and I have regularly mused on the relevance of the material. We are facing a time of rising division and polarisation. We can learn from people like Charlotte von Mahlsdorf who navigated a path through oppressive times.

Have you ever played multiple characters in a show before?

Yes, many times. I did a play by Israel Horovitz a few years ago called 'Lebensraum'. In it, I played 16 characters but this is a new record for me.

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Image © Daniel James Grant

What do you love about it?

My director Joe Lui, dared me to say "that it's all about me". But in all honesty it's the opposite. I'm excited to meet 200+ strangers in the dark each performance and share this story. It's the joy of introducing an audience to the enigmatic and inimitable character that is Charlotte von Mahlsdorf.

What kind of message are you hoping this show sends your audiences?

That nothing is black and white. That the grey areas of who we are as people are the most interesting and worth investigating. The playwright, Doug Wright, allows space for the audience to make up their own mind about who Charlotte was as a person. I'm looking forward to the conversations at the bar post show.

 ‘I Am My Own Wife’ plays State Theatre Centre 12-29 October.


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