Mahler's Conversion

Previewed 20 September 2001, Opened 2 October 2001, Closed 3 November 2001 at the Aldwych Theatre in London

Ronald Harwood's new play Mahler's Conversion in London starring Antony Sher

This new play explores the background to the cult Austrian late-romantic composer Gustav Mahler - the tormented composer's marriage and infidelities, his conversion from Judaism to Catholicism, and the composer's meeting with Sigmund Freud.

The cast features Antony Sher as 'Gustav Mahler', with Anna Francolini as 'Anna Von Mildenburg', Fiona Glascott as 'Alma Schindler', Nickolas Grace as 'Siegfried Lipiner', Alexandra Mathie as 'Natalie Bauer-Lechner', and Gary Waldhorn as 'Sigmund Freud'.

Directed by Gregory Doran, with designs by Stephen Brimson Lewis, lighting by Tim Mitchell and sound by John A Leonard.

Antony Sher's West End credits include the title role in Gregory Doran's revival of Rostand's play Cyrano de Bergerac, for Royal Shakespeare Company, at the Lyric Theatre in 1997.

"Not for the first time with biographically based works of imagination, I find myself wishing that the author had used fictional characters to present his case: that way we wouldn't have to worry about historical accuracy... Still, we must take the play as we find it, and the theme is certainly a very interesting one. The trouble is that Harwood doesn't stick to it hard enough. Partly he jumps around too much: there are short scenes, often involving minor characters, that lead nowhere. But there is also too much determination to find humour in a subject which calls - predominantly, at least - for high seriousness... As Mahler Antony Sher conveys the intensity which the play intermittently achieves, but he, too, strains after comedy. At one point he lopes around with a cigar like Groucho Marx, Nickolas Grace lends suave support as a disenchanted friend; Gary Waldhorn scores as Freud in one scene, a consultation between Freud and Mahler on a park bench, where the semi-burlesque element works well." The Sunday Telegraph

"Ronald Harwood's tone-deaf new play, Mahler's Conversion, concerns the ambitious Jewish composer Gustav Mahler, who must convert to Catholicism if he is to become court composer in Vienna. What might have been an investigation into the nature of human identity comes across as a pretentious muddle. Leaden wit, two-dimensional characters and a series of jolting scenes guaranteed my lack of involvement. It's bewildering that a musician might have fallen for a woman with a voice like Fiona Glascott's Alma. Greg Doran's production is easy on the eye and, but for some inadequate blasts of Mahler's music, excruciating on the ear. Easy on the eye but hard on the ear." The Mail on Sunday

"In 1910, a year before he died, Gustav Mahler, aged 50, had a consultation with Sigmund Freud. Mahler's marriage to his much younger wife, Alma, was on the rocks. He had to leave his job as musical director of the Vienna Court Opera owing to intrigues, growing anti-Semitism and his own intractable temperament. He had also been diagnosed with a fatal heart disease... This meeting is the penultimate scene and the thrilling, but not entirely satisfying, climax of Ronald Harwood's new play. Mahler's Conversion is a parable, a psychoanalytical case history and a story of self-betrayal... Harwood picks up this piece of history by the scruff of the neck and shakes it into new shape. His point is that Mahler betrayed himself. His Jewishness stood in the way of his Vienna appointment, and he became a Catholic to get it. Get it he did, but his Jewishness never went away... He remained that extraordinary wandering Jew he once dreamt of: on the tip of his staff there was a cross. He was an exile who converted into a pilgrim, but a pilgrim without either a home or a destination." The Sunday Times

Mahler's Conversion in London at the Aldwych Theatre previewed from 20 September 2001, opened on 2 October 2001, and closed on 3 November 2001