MEIWES/BRANDES is an original musical about the 2001 cannibalism case of Armin Meiwes and Bernd Brandes. The show is in an experimental phase at the Tristan Bates Theatre, where both performances are followed by a question and answer session. Tickets are available here.
Why did you choose to create a musical about the Armin Meiwes case?
This project is the result of a prompt we received while on our MA; our RADA professor Tom Hunsinger asked us to create an original piece of theatre using music. After reading the works of Sarah Kane all term, we were inspired to try and tackle something similarly meaningful and macabre. After brainstorming some of our own darkest corners, one of our team suggested the story of Armin Meiwes. Sitting in the refectory, we pulled up some news stories on our phones and were immediately hooked.
Since then, though, the piece has done a bit of a u-turn. We certainly began devising with the Armin Meiwes/Bernd Brandes story firmly at the forefront of our minds, however as the piece developed and our ‘understanding’ deepened, we found that we had in fact stumbled upon an entire subculture of people who share these same desires. Meiwes and Brandes were far from alone in their sexaulisation of cannibalism. We began to include verbatim snippets from other particularly harrowing examples which we found online and the play grew into what it now is; the Meiwes/Brandes story as a microcosm of a much broader world.
What makes the show relevant to today?
As crazy as it sounds, I think most people can relate to this story. And I’m not talking about eating people. (Although a couple of our cast members did try beef tongue for research.)
This story started long before that infamous night – both these men had troubled childhoods, absent fathers, difficult relationships with their mothers, both were unable to articulate their homosexuality without consequence, and both resorted to the internet when normal human interaction was too difficult. Sadly, that sounded like a lot of people we knew, especially in this mediatized age.
Anyone who has sustained a loss so great that they become desperate for human connection, has something in common with Armin Meiwes and Bernd Brandes. We’ve all made poor choices or had dark thoughts at our lowest points. So, in effect this story is timeless; it’s about loss, grief, sex, pain and lust. All of the good stuff.
What draws people in?
When you really strip it down, this play is about a first date. A lot of the events and feelings Meiwes and Brandes describe are familiar because we’ve all felt that excited, vulnerable sensation. The audience is drawn into something they can relate to, and then confronted with something they’d never do. It’s a surprisingly fine line.
The piece was also born out of that morbid fascination which people have (but often attempt to suppress) when it comes to stories of this nature. ‘True crime’ dramas are huge and when it comes to vorarephilia (the sexualisation of cannibalism), Armin Meiwes and Bernd Brandes have almost become the ‘poster boys’ – in fact a google search of the word will actually throw up an image of Brandes’ face. However the more we looked into this story the more we realised that they certainly weren’t alone in having these desires and fantasies. Everyone thinks they know this story, the idea of hearing the truth has been tantalising to everyone we have spoken to.
How did you piece it together? How true to life is it? Did you use news articles/interview transcripts?
Our team conducted some pretty in-depth research (you don’t want to see our browser histories) into the correspondence between Meiwes and Brandes. We have actual transcripts of their instant messages back and forth, we’ve even seen the original solicitations on web forums for hard and soft vore. We didn’t watch the tape of their night together, but we’ve read the police notes on the video as well as dozens of articles and books about Armin Meiwes.
How did you develop the characters?
It was kind of like writing a script inside out, we started with the lines, taken from the men themselves, and then constructed scenes and motivations around them. Using this approach we realised that the characters began to form pretty organically. It was tricky in a dramaturgical sense, however, curating all of our research. We did write scenes from scratch but only when there were obvious gaps – one obvious gap being that Brandes is no longer alive. This meant that there was a lot less researchable or quotable information on Brandes, but it was far from impossible.
What makes this new and daring piece stand out?
The story itself is unique – there isn’t much horror in theatre, and cannibalism seems unstageable to many. When you add the musical element to that it creates something pretty original.
MEIWES/BRANDES is daring because we attack this story in a way that is deliberately jarring. It’s not completely naturalistic – the verbatim, and often translated text lends itself to a more stylized delivery while the music creates and sustains tension. Almost the whole piece is underscored, but when the characters do sing it’s often surprisingly tender. It’s simultaneously horrifying and humanizing. We’re also extremely lucky to have a native German speaker amongst our cast which has enabled us to incorporate moments of German throughout the piece.
When it’s all put together we have a bilingual, non-naturalistic, cannibal musical which is based on true events. I’d say that’s pretty daring.
Scott Howland joins the cast having recently performed his new play ‘Nothing to Perform’ at The Camden Fringe, and also recently directed at the National Theatre as part of their ‘Space to Create’ programme.
Harriet Taylor directed ‘Nothing to Perform’ at The Cockpit Theatre and is also currently starring in ‘Ordinary Days’ which plays at Soho Theatre later this month.
Laura Dorn is about to direct a new version of Wilde’s ‘Salomé’ at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, and is currently working on a feature film.
Rory Richardson is currently in talks with the Soho Theatre after receiving critical acclaim for her one woman show Ovarydose. She has also recently joined the Soho Young Company for Cabaret and Drag and looks forward to performing in the Slamminutes festival at the Arcola this February.