Tonight the Drama Barn is transformed into early 1930s Nazi Germany; a place where terror and uncertainty is growing with each passing moment …
This sets the scene for Drama Soc’s interpretation of Martin Sherman’s 1979 play ‘Bent’ directed by Marcus Crabb. ‘Bent’ portrays the somewhat suppressed story of homosexuality in the pre-war years of Nazi Germany. The plot follows the character of Max; a gay man on the run from the Gestapo who loves, who loses, who sacrifices all to stay alive.
Knowing very little about the gay struggle during this period, I was intrigued to hear a story that would provide a new insight into this incredibly tumultuous time.
Immediately upon entering the barn I was greeted with some 1930s jazz and a scene of debauchery; alcohol, stripping, dancing and a full frontal view of some tight leather pants! All this action took centre stage whilst the audience encircled it and gazed upon the spectacle. This up close and personal viewership remained throughout.
This comic and light-hearted atmosphere carried on into the first scene in which we formally meet Max, played by Caolan Keaveney and Rudy, played by Eddie Kaziro and became acquainted with their comically tense relationship. Kaziro played Rudy as an excitable and lovable character as he almost pranced around the stage, swinging his hips, speaking in a quick sing-song tone whilst giving his beloved house plants some tlc. Keaveney however initally portrayed Max as a rather irritable character; hungover and grouchy. He appeared as a depressed character in spite of his drunken antics being portrayed as habitual. However the play quickly moves from lovable comedy to dark tragedy as the guns of the Gestapo burst onto the scene.
Together, Keaveney and Kaziro emotively portray the horror of two men fleeing for their lives; their only crime is loving each other. The two bicker throughout their exiled time together including an increasingly agitated Rudy accusing Max of wanting him dead. Yet despite these heightening of tensions, the two still offer tender moments. Keaveney and Kaziro huddle together, tightly gripping each others hand, their eyes locked onto each other as they softly sing together. This moment, portrayed outside their tent hidden in the forest, ends in tragedy as reality comes crashing down once more as they are found by the Gestapo and the audience are plunged into scenes which are dark and uncomfortable to watch.
The following scenes which conclude the first act are filled with Max’s break from sanity as he is forced into beating his lover Rudy and committing unspeakable acts to gain some small reprieve from the cruelty which awaits him at Dachau camp.
The second act of the play was set up differently to the first; rather than multiple sceneries and props, the audience is given two actors, Max and Horst, played by Leo Clasen, one setting, a Dachau courtyard and one agonisingly repetitive action, moving rocks back and forth from one side of the stage to the other. Max explains in a monotone and lifeless voice the purpose of this laborious task which is to drive the workers insane, although the character seems defiant in his conviction that this will not happen to him.
Despite the scenes consisting of the same two people doing the same thing, concentration and interest from the audience does not falter. We watch Horst’s health deteriorate whilst his relationship with Max blossoms. This one setting itself tells a new story of love, loss and sacrifice. This discovery of love in such a desolate place was convincingly portrayed by Keaveney and Clasen which made their circumstance all the more unbearable to witness.
Keaveney performed Max as a highly complex character but one who the audience in the end feels for. Originally an irritable character later morphs into a vulnerable but twisted man; broken down by his treatment by the Gestapo which ventures into dark themes such as necrophilia. By the time Max’s story comes to an end the audience feels sympathy. They know what fate lies before him as the sound of an electric fence magnifies as he gets closer to the stage’s exit.
An actor who should be commended for his portrayal of various role is Nick Newman, who played the confidently gay Wolf, cautious Uncle Freddie and a intimidating Prison Guard. The way Newman changed his demenour between his characters; from an ostentatious presence to a nervous but eloquent “fluff” to a frighteningly aggressive Nazi made him a key player in delivering this demanding plot.
Every character was delivered in a way that offered a sense of realism which made ‘Bent’ a dark, unconformable, thought provoking success. It highlighted the often forgotten story of the ‘pink triangles’ representing the gays in the camps, who were seen as the lowest of the low in the frightening hierarchy of human worth created by the Nazis. This play, whilst hard hitting on an emotional level, was also informative in an area of the past which arguably in popular culture is not given enough attention.
‘Bent’ has two more performances at the Drama Barn: Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd at 19:30.