Meiwes/Brandes reviewed by Susy Brett
A new experimental musical about the infamous cannibalism case, Meiwes/Brandes, was performed at The Actors Centre over the weekend.
Europeans will likely be familiar with the Meiwes/Brandes case, which dominated newspaper headlines in the early noughties. In short, Armin Meiwes, a German computer technician, advertised for a willing victim to be killed and eaten on a website for people with a cannibalism fetish. Bernd Brandes, an engineer from Berlin, took him up on the offer, consenting to be eaten and attempting to eat his own severed penis with Meiwes before (eventually) being stabbed in the throat by Meiwes. In 2006, Meiwes was convicted of murder.
It’s a macabre concept for a musical, yet it is not gratuitous. The horror of the scenario is subtle, a clever suggestion of something awful taking place without it being forced in our faces. Walking Dead, it is not. In substitute is a scene that is incredibly visceral and powerful, evoking a genuine feeling of revulsion in the audience. I rather regretted the couple of drinks I had in the bar beforehand, and I suspect others did too. This is not an easy watch and one would not expect it to be, but the balance of disturbing the audience without showing the atrocious act was very well crafted.
Harriet Taylor and Scott Howland were excellent in their portrayal of Meiwes and Brandes, which felt refreshingly honest despite what these two men are famous for. They feel like real men, not horrible monsters. There could be more on the backgrounds of the characters, particularly Brandes’, and the teased connection between the two men, but this should come naturally as this work progresses. The acting roles of Aurora Richardson and Laura Dorn probably need to be better defined, though their work as musicians on the show is appreciated.
One thing that is strange and immediately noticeable is the decision to take a queer narrative and tell it with a male and female actor, which I considered a major detractor. As explained in a post-show Q&A, this is partly to do with necessity due to the gender makeup of the group. However, in a city that celebrates diversity, I don’t feel it is appropriate casting. There are many, many real-life cases starring men and women that might be more appropriate, or even a fictionalised story based on this case might work better. That said, I left the show conflicted because Taylor’s performance was one of my favourite parts of the show.
The musical numbers are strong, contrasting the dark going-ons on stage with a wonderful, light acoustic accompaniment. These are, largely, songs that one could enjoy without seeing the show or realising they have anything to do with cannibalism.
Meiwes/Brandes is an interesting concept for a musical, featuring a group of genuine talent who mesh well together, and I am very interested to see how it develops.