I Am a Camera

Written by John van Druten

Monday 23rd October to Saturday 28th October 1972

Produced and Directed by Brian Montefiore

A real story about real people and with neither a beginning nor an end; the characters simply come into the camera's focus for a time and then merge into the background to continue their existence.

AuthorJohn van Druten

John van Druten (1901 - 1957)

Van Druten was born in London, the son of a Dutch father, Wilhelmus van Druten and his English wife Eva. He was educated at University College School and read Law at the University of London. Before commencing his career as a writer he practised law for a while as a solicitor and university lecturer in Wales.

He first came to prominence with 'Young Woodley', a slight but charming study of adolescence, which was produced in New York in 1925, but was initially banned in London by the Lord Chamberlain's office. He was one of the most successful playwrights of the early 1930s in London with star-studded West End productions of his work. He later emigrated to America where he became a naturalised citizen and wrote many more plays including the 1951 play 'I Am a Camera'.

PlayI Am a Camera

I Am a Camera was initially inspired by Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories. The play itself went on to inspire the musical show and film 'Cabaret' which famously starred Liza Minelli. It centres around Isherwood's life during the time he spent in Germany during the Second World War and the action takes place in the bed-sitting room of Fraulein Schneider's lodging house in Berlin. Confronting frank subjects such as pregnancy and unwanted racism it's a tellingly real piece of history and life.

The Bench Production

I Am a Camera poster image

Bench Theatre's original name was 'Theatre Union' and was later changed to reflect the name of the theatre in West Street where most of their productions were staged. This production was performed under the original Theatre Union name and staged at The Bench Theatre building in West Street. It was the company's fifth major production at that venue which was their home for nearly 7 years.


Christopher IsherwoodTony Starr
Fraulein SchneiderNoella Mills
Fritz WendelDerek Cusdin
Sally BowlesHelena Whalley
Natalia LanauerJane Murray
Clive MortimerJohn Scadding
Mrs Watson-CourtenidgePamela Ayling


Director Brian Montefiore
Stage Manager Ken Ayling
Set Designer David Lings
Lighting Tom Eckhoff
Wardrobe Pamela Ayling
Makeup Helena Whalley

Director's Notes

'I am a Camera' is based on Christopher Isherwood's short story 'Sally Bowles' which appears in his volume called 'The Berlin Stories'. It is a real story about real people and as such has neither a beginning nor an end; the characters come into the camera's focus for a time and then merge into the background to continue their existence. The reality of Sally Bowles may be a little hard to swallow but she is a real person, trying desperately hard to be what she thinks other people believe her to be.

Brian Montefiore


The NewsP.G.

'I am a Camera' focuses on perfection

Like a camera, Christopher Isherwood tries to observe events in pre-war Berlin without getting involved in 'I am a Camera', by John van Druten presented by the Theatre Union Adult Group at the Bench Theatre, West Sussex, Havant, this week. "I am a camera with its shutters open, quite passive. Some day all of this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." But then his unsuccessful author's routine is interrupted by Sally Bowles (played by Helena Whalley) a joyfully immoral nightclub singer. Whether they can observe, and not be involved in the pressures that are uniting Germany under the Nazis, and whether they are justified in doing so, is one of the questions the play asks.

Christopher Isherwood (played by Tony Starr) also tries to become involved with a rich American (John Scadding), who promises to sweep them away from the realities of life. Sally, who develops a taste for champagne, believes this is the way to live but even she loses her artificial sophistication when faced with the moral decision of whether to observe the persecution of the Jews, or to take sides.

This development of Sally's character was very well handled by Helena Whalley, who was especially convincing in the way she adopted the fashions of the time, even to movement and facial gestures. But the most impressive feature of the production was the professional approach to the small parts.

Mummy (Pamela Ayling) was every bit as ghastly as she should be without becoming a caricature. The performance of Jan Murray as Natalia Landauer, and Derek Cusdin as Fritz Wendel were do convincing that they threatened to take over the play. John Scadding and Noella Mills were both excellent. Tony Starr managed to project the personality of Isherwood without dominating the play. It is this subtlety seen through all the play, that makes it easy to absorb, and entertaining to watch.

The News, 24th October 1972

Production Photographs