Telling a story based on real events is never easy. Telling the remarkable story of cross dresser Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is beyond not easy, it's a huge undertaking. The writing itself is outstanding as you would expect from a Pulitzer and Tony prize winning play.
The actor, John Cronin is exceptional. He has a sense of stillness about him that many actors don't have. He doesn't need to make a gesture, change his costume or use a prop to let the audience know which character he is. His posture, accent and the look in his eyes are enough to convey the character he has become. This is a particular ability I admire in an actor - Damian Lewis from Homeland and Band of Brothers being another example.
Despite playing 36 different characters, his performance is always measured. Character changes are realistically balanced and there is no sense of unnatural speed. Every character, no matter how insignificant, is precisely defined and effortlessly conveyed. This is a testament to Cronin's acting ability. In fact the entire production is a testament to his ability. The breadth of accents in this production alone are enough to make most actors run away.
The set is beautiful and acts to enhance Cronin's performance. I particularly love the contrast between the beautiful old things Charlotte surrounds herself with and her choice of dress. Gilded mirrors and red velvet chairs are set against her plain black dress, hair covering and orthopedic black shoes. This plain style of dress both reflects and amplifies her character traits, her purposeful collecting of materials, her quiet acceptance of events and her resourcefulness at working through situations. She is not a stereotype; she doesn't wear make-up, or heels or act frivolously.
The show was gorgeous, Charlotte herself was endearing, the direction was perfect. I loved the set, the sound, the visuals. I particularly loved the lighting in the last scene and it seemed the audience was hesitant to applaud in case they broke the spell Charlotte had woven. John Cronin gave a virtuoso performance of this highly technical play, and made it look effortless.
This play is for theatre people, for actors, for people in the business as well as the usual audiences. You will see how theatrically nimble this actor is, and you will be jealous and amazed and rise and applaud as I did.
I am My Own Wife is playing at the MAC Belfast until Saturday 6 October. If you don't see it you will regret it.