Bent

Sun 11th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Flo Layer

at 09:37 on 12th Aug 2013

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Written by Martin Sherman, ‘Bent’ explores an unforgettable story of homosexual love, betrayal, suffering and realisation within the harrowing setting of World War II Nazi Germany. The cast of Table 9 Productions justify this beautiful script at this year’s Fringe by performing it with heart-wrenching warmth and sincerity. I can honestly admit that I was left with tears welling up in my eyes, goosebumps raised on both arms and a tragic helplessness that stayed with me long after the lights finally dimmed: this is definitely a piece of beautiful theatre.

The dynamic pairing of Peter Calver and Danniel Morton is inspired and utterly engaging from the very first scene. In farcical fashion, bits and pieces of the previous night’s exploits are explained in brilliantly flamboyant, Wilde-esque fashion by Rudy (Morton) to the promiscuous and horribly hungover, Max (Calver). As an audience we sympathetically laugh at Max’s suffering state, a result of a predictably short-lived bright-young-things lifestyle, and burst out with surprise when the semi-naked Mark Mear as the dim-witted Wolf takes an unbearably funny casual stroll across stage.

Yet the performance deepens, and this beautifully constructed chemistry is undermined by the closeness of death and impossibly dark future. Effective lighting (directed by Richard Grogan) dramatically highlights the first death on stage alongside the sinister delivery of the crux of the play; in Nazi Germany, our lovable gay characters remain tragically, “unloved, darling, unloved”. Although the set-changes and transfers between scenes were frustratingly slow, and the performance consequently lost some momentum, the spiralling loss of trust in family and friends, betrayals and weakening moral boundaries are presented to us in smooth, convincing succession.

An emotional highlight was Rudy’s heart-breaking wish for “new-glasses”, delivered with overwhelming naivety by Morton, which reminds us that it is the commonplace objects, the completely convincing realism of this performance, that makes it so tragically human. As director, Chris Bassett raises the bar in the train scene and ensures that every sense is harrowingly attacked; the chaotic thrum of the train fills our ears, insufficient to muffle the heart-wrenching offstage screams, and our eyes are unable to turn away from the visually stunning and convincingly traumatic, blood-stained death at the hands of the dominating Nazis.

Anthony Eglington delivers the star performance of the show as the warm and loving Horst. Over a futile, repetitive task an incredibly moving relationship is convincingly built brick by brick between Max (Calver) and Horst (Eglington) which is extremely affecting. At the end, who knew that the mere stroke of a left eyebrow would leave me consumed with sadness for characters I’d only known for just over an hour. This is not to be missed.

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Emily Brearley-Bayliss

at 12:15 on 12th Aug 2013

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‘Bent’, directed by Chris Basset, is a simultaneously harrowing and hilarious venture that delves deep into the themes of love, homosexuality, persecution and being honest about who you are. An outstanding cast is led by Peter Calver, who portrays the distant, selfish Max, who, in a Nazi concentration camp, uses one of his “deals” to be allowed to wear a yellow star instead of a pink triangle because “that is the worst”. His struggle with this, with accepting his feelings for fellow prisoner Wolf (Mark Mear), and guilt about selling out his vulnerable boyfriend Rudy (Danniel Horton) in order to appear straight, deals sensitively with such controversial themes as these. An exploration of the symbolic meanings of the arbitrary coloured shapes the prisoners must wear to show exactly which brand of wrong they are, this play questions exactly what it is to love someone, and the extent to which some will go to tear people apart.

A deeply sexual, honest representation of life in Nazi camps, Sherman’s script is both highly charged, clever, and thought provoking. With obvious mirroring shown in the speech patterns of Max and Wolf, the repetition of “It’s cold” and “It doesn’t matter”, reflects the continuous and repetitive moving of rocks from one place to another and back again, a task devised simply to torture the prisoners. The audience is sent as mad as the characters; we are pulled into their world and feel their pain alongside them. There is a deep contrast between the hilarious, almost farcical scenes at the beginning in which Max and Rudy spar over Max’s drunken antics and a naked man casually wanders across the back of the stage, with the disturbing events at Dachau. This serves to show the devastation the Nazi regime caused to many who were previously happy. Wolf’s dark humour and sardonic nature brings a bittersweet feeling to his courtship of Max, and creates a tenderness that makes the tragic and dramatic events that end the play even more shocking and devastating.

A few weaker moments such as the crude projection of barbed wire onto the back wall of the set in order to show the lethal electric fence were overshadowed by the sheer power of the actors’ performances. Many a tear was shed in the audience, and this tragic story of love and loss is one that will certainly stay with me for a very long time.

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