Arena Theatre presents Martin Sherman's


Directed by Hayley Tucker with permission from Samuel French

Set in Germany between 1934 and 1936, Bent takes place at a time of both pre-war decadence and horrific intolerance. An unlikely love story filled with joy, terror, and a splash of cabaret

  • Performance Dates
  • Thu, 18 Feb 2016 19:45 at The Stage Door, Southampton
  • Fri, 19 Feb 2016 19:45 at The Stage Door, Southampton
  • Thu, 25 Feb 2016 19:45 at Bournemouth Little Theatre
  • Fri, 26 Feb 2016 19:45 at Bournemouth Little Theatre
  • Sat, 27 Feb 2016 19:45 at Bournemouth Little Theatre

Courtney Ann - On The Scene

In 1979, a play called Bent by Martin Sherman was performed onstage for the first time and it shocked everyone. In 2016 at The Stage Door in Southampton, the very same play was performed and despite the thirty years that have passed, the experience was just as shocking.

The performance was of many things – controversial, fascinating, terrifying, uncomfortable in some places but hauntingly beautiful at the same time. The actors had a talented ability to send the audience into a silent gaze that found their hearts beating much faster. The discomfort of emotions that the play raised is not to be judged as a negative reaction, but instead a reaction that meant our hearts were breaking just as much as the characters in the story. The audience witnessed and felt the reality of what it was like to suffer through the Holocaust, the prejudice of not only the Jews but those who were homosexual. When most people think of the Holocaust they think of Jews as the primary victims. However, Bent showed us another perspective from those that were gay and the torture that they too endured.

Something beautiful that the performance achieved was that even within the darkest and painful of times, human beings are able to find their humanity when treated like animals, as well as create meaningful bonds with other people that are powerful enough to override evil. Despite the torturous events that were happening, the innate need to connect with others was never forgotten and it was the connections between the victims that kept their morality and sense of self strong. Perhaps the most beautiful moment of all though, was the play’s ending. Throughout most of the play, gay protagonist Max hides his sexuality behind a yellow badge given to him by the Nazi’s that labels him as a Jew. Horst, another victim proudly wears a pink badge that signifies he is a gay man, and with that comes the result of the unfair treatment – gays are worse than Jews. There won’t be any spoilers here, but after a long time of hiding and battling the truth, he triumphs as it is the truth that sets him free and by the end of the play, let’s just say Max’s badge is no longer yellow.

Bent was an experience that all audiences need. People need to be shocked, to have their emotions brought to the surface and their eyes opened about events that matter. For the gay community especially, the play speaks volumes as it shows how far the fight against homophobia and discrimination has come. It is a reminder that no label, no suffering and no evil can ever completely kill what we were born with – our humanity.
David Putley - Scene One

This play by Martin Sherman still packs an emotional punch and the intimate stage setting that the Stage Door venue provides was perfect for this emotional power drive, allowing no escape from the tension and sorrowfulness of this narrative.
For those unfamiliar with this work, it explores the lesser known stories of the persecution of homosexuals in 1930s Germany: links to the Cabaret/I Am A Camera type works beg favourable comparison. It depicts the journey of Max from frivolous joker to survivor and finding real love in the most unlikely of places.
The all-male cast worked so hard for a disappointingly sparse audience who nevertheless were engrossed with what was being put before them as the work moved towards its inevitable sign-posted conclusion. And it is not an easy watch. The pounding of the door which Max and Rudy mistake for the rent collecting Jewish Landlord is as terrifying as ever and had this reviewer, who knows the play well, on the edge of his seat such was the atmosphere created.
I was bemused by the initial approach to the Rudy and Max relationship as it was too dark: no frivolity to contrast with the horrors of the end of Act 1 or Act 2, but I realised that this showed Max (who it is very hard to like or empathise with generally) in greater depth in his discovery of real love for Vorst. As the play progressed Daniel Withey's interpretation gave you that full relationship, the former extravagant joker then hiding behind the yellow star finding redemption in taking control of his life when he wears the pink star of the mesmerising Ryan Gregg's more accepting of himself coughing Vorst. Rudy had found himself as more than the dancer with damaged ankles in his adaption to the regime around him: but, such feelings were just a trifle and inconvenience to Max as he realised the real dangers around him and sought to save himself by not being himself.
The direction by Hayley Tucker was excellent throughout: stand-out moments were the way Max's enforced beating of his "fluff" Rudy ( a complex and effete Ryan Hall finding joy in ditch digging) was shown: violence without violence if you will, the famous no-touching scene in Act 2; the way Rudy was usurped at the breakfast table by the very suave and sexy Tom Adamson as Wolf; Greta's dismissive announcement that it was he ( a spot on Chris Edwards) who alerted the authorities to their address; the "family" discussion of the button factory liaison with a pragmatically slimy Grae Westgate; the relentless aforementioned door banging racking up the tension to an almost unbearable level.
The Nazi element was underplayed, which made the inter-actions when they came all the more sinister, heralding death in some shape or form. Brian Woolton's Captain was so cold and brutal; he oozed nastiness in every appearance, the leather glove stroking being particularly evocative.
Like all interpretations of man’s inhumanity to man, this is not joyous entertainment, rather a slow-burning candle of man's indomitable spirit in the face of such horrors, events we alas are still witnessing today. This play in its current form deserves to be seen by a wider audience and enjoyed for its intensity and acting even if the subject matter is sometimes too overwhelming to watch.
There are further performances tonight at The Stage Door and from February 25-27 at Bournemouth Little Theatre, all at 7.45pm.
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