“I love you…what’s wrong with that?”
Andrew Keates’ production of Martin Sherman’s play Bent was a big success at the Landor Theatre earlier in the year and so its transfer to the Tabard Theatre in Chiswick makes sense. Both spaces share an intimacy that feels appropriate to the intense emotion of the play and Keates is clearly attuned to the full range of human experience that lovers Max and Rudy are forced to go through. In 1930s Berlin, the pair flee persecution after witnessing a murder but when the Nazis catch up with them, they’re shipped off to Dachau.
What follows is an exploration of just how viciously homosexuals were treated by the Nazi regime and a testament to the immense spirit shown by those who were unfortunate enough to be oppressed. This lends the Dachau scenes an air of slight unreality, almost of idealism, but it is one that is indubitably well-earned as these men search for the tiniest bit of tenderness, humanity, even love, in the most horrendous of surroundings. The brutality of Freya Groves’ design of barbed wire and swastikas never lets us forget where we are though.
Russell Morton as Max is simply superb, tracing the journey from carefree gay abandon to appalled helplessness , full of love and pain as the gravity of the situation slowly becomes apparent. Steven Butler’s Rudy is deliberately more grating, his giddy youthfulness unable to resist the rough, working class charms of David Flynn’s Horst in the camp, but we’re never in any doubt as to the private pain underneath the brash public persona. Bent is brutal but brilliant, this production serves it as well as any possibly could.