The Institute
David Dawson

“Through science to justice.”

1919 – Berlin and Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute of Sexual Science is a beacon of hope and progress. Its staff dedicate their lives to the abolition of ‘Paragraph 175’- the criminalisation of ‘An unnatural sex act between persons of the male sex’. Their plan – to make a film ‘Different From the Others’ that will show Germany, and the world, that homosexuality is not a vice, a crime or condition. It will be a liberation. But the Reichstag have different plan. Based on true events this is a story of hope, fearlessness and being seen.

Olivier-Award nominated actor David Dawson plays a leading role in Michael Grandage directed My Policeman, opposite Harry Styles and Emma Corrin – due for release in early 2022 – following a varied career on television. His play The Institute is set in Berlin in 1919 and based on the true story of people who dedicated their lives to abolishing ‘Paragraph 175’, the criminalisation of homosexuality.

David played Tony Warren in THE ROAD TO CORONATION STREET (2010), the upper class dandy and psychopath Toby Kent in series 2 of LUTHER (2011), Fred Best in RIPPER STREET (2012–2016), the scene stealing Vladimir in THE SECRET AGENT (2016), Poins in BBC 2/Sam Mendes HENRY IV parts 1 and 2, DI Horton in Stephen Poliakoff’s DANCING ON THE EDGE, Roberts in PEAKY BLINDERS, and most recently as the brilliant leading role of King Alfred in THE LAST KINGDOM (2015–2018) and as Joseph Merrick (“The Elephant Man”) in YEAR OF THE RABBIT (2019).

He recently shot espionage thriller, All The Old Knives for Amazon Studios, with Jonathan Pryce, Lawrence Fishburne and Chris Pine. On stage, Dawson received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for playing Smike in the 2007 production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Other notable performances have been in THE ENTERTAINER (Old Vic), COMEDIANS (Lyric Hammersmith), POSH (Royal Court), LUISE MILLER (Donmar Warehouse), THE DAZZLE (Found 111), THE DUCHESS OF MALFI (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse), BRIAN FRIEL’S ARISTOCRATS (Donmar Warehouse), and most recently FAIRVIEW (Young Vic.)

Introducing playwright David Dawson

What inspired you to write this play? 

I was passionate about wanting to see far more LGBTQ+ led drama on the stage.

As a history geek, I was hungry to find inspiration from our past. I did lots of research and found this incredible moment in 1919 when this special gang of LGBTQ+ people were achieving incredible things. And how relevant that story remains today. I thought I’ve got to tell the world about these people!

Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a playwright? 

When I was 16 I was in a drama club in Widnes and the leaders were wonderful. They were encouraging and inspiring. They made you think that anything and everything is possible, so I wrote a play and took it to them and they put it on. We sold out the theatre in my home town for three nights.

Then when I was 18 I was determined to put on a play in a city but I needed the money. So I wrote to many wonderful actors to ask for help. Julie Walters and Barbara Windsor wrote back and very kindly gave me some money to fund the hiring of the Tower Theatre for 3 nights. I’ll never forget their help in doing that.

Then I became an actor and writing became a kind of therapeutic hobby. I would have lots of ideas and scribble them down and put them in a drawer and they’d never see the light of day.

Then during lockdown I came across this small news article on this Institute and i couldn’t stop thinking about it . It became my obsession to know as much as possible.

What or who inspires you as a writer?

I find the human psyche fascinating, peoples’ rhythms, their wants and needs and how the society they live in can deeply affect them for the better of worse.

Why did you want to write for the stage ? 

Firstly as an actor you inhabit the world that’s been created by others, so the amazing opportunity to be the creator of a world and have other people speak your words and live in the bodies of characters you’ve created in your head has always been a dream of mine.

Secondly what I love about the theatre is that anything is possible. A stage is a blank canvas just ready to be filled with a new world. And you can never beat the feeling of a Live shared experience.

What do you think about the Bruntwood Prize? And more specifically the anonymity at the heart of it ? 

What the Bruntwood stands for, what it encourages I think is pretty exceptional.

The ideas for my play had been taken out of my drawer and put back many many times and I’d almost given up on it; thinking the chances of this ever being finished or indeed  – put on – is probably zero.

Then my partner told me to look up the Bruntwood Prize. I saw on the website many of the judges and staff being so encouraging. Simply hearing them saying ‘Give it a go. Someone will read your work. What have you got to lose’ – it was this that lit a fire in my belly to finish the play.

What makes the Bruntwood so special is the anonymity of it . It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from , the process is purely about the celebration of playwriting and a hunger to find new voices. And I think theatre right now is screaming out for new voices and new perspectives.

How do you feel about being shortlisted? 

I was shaking the moment I heard. I just couldn’t believe it. But I’m so so thrilled that this story has resonated with people. Whatever happens, it has ignited my passion to create stories that bring important and relevant social issues to light.