Review: Bent at South Hill ParkBy Caroline Cook
July 12, 2012
"I can't believe I never knew about this."
That's what my theatre companion said, standing shell-shocked at the bar during the interval of Bent.
Both of us studied the Holocaust at school, we have both seen Schindler's List and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but neither of us had ever heard about the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi regime.
Before Martin Sherman put pen to paper for Bent in 1979 little, if any, of the literature surrounding the Holocaust spoke about the plight of homosexuals in Nazi Germany.
So it is perhaps only right that Bent tells the story in the most harrowing and brutal way, making the Holocaust even more horrific than we already knew- a feat which you would barely think possible if you have read anything of its terrors.
The play begins with the spotlight on homosexuality, looking in on Max (Lewis Richardson) and Rudy (Michael Ayiotis) living as a gay couple in Berlin in the 1940s.
But the focus is quickly shifted to the Nazi occupation when the man Max has brought home after a drunken night in a club is brutally murdered, and Max and Rudy find themselves in a train on the way to Dachau.
The interruption of the relatively blissful life inside Max and Rudy's apartment is harsh and shocking, and the punches never really stop throughout the play.
The train scene is particularly brutal. Familiar motifs are there - the striped pyjamas, the SS uniforms, the yellow star - but Bent brings an entirely different perspective to what we think we know.
Everyone has read about families being torn apart by cruel Nazi soldiers but far less familiar is the story of men and women having to deny who they are in the most horrific way, purely because of their sexuality.
When Max arrives at Dachau, having managed to get a yellow star rather than a pink triangle - the symbol used to indicate homosexuals - he meets Horst (Luke Burton), a man who has been brought to the camp because he signed a petition calling for the legalisation of homosexuality.
Director Chris Lyne has created a particularly powerful second half to the play setting the scene inside Dachau with looming barbed wire and a huge pile of heavy rocks which Max and Horst move consistently from one side of the stage to the other.
The imagery is stark and the dialogue is starker with Richardson and Burton building an alarmingly convincing image of the fear and struggle inside the camp.
Both of the actors manage to capture the brutal decline of the prisoners inside the camp while tentatively building the relationship of the two men.
Bent is undoubtedly hard to watch. As with any play which explores the Holocaust the horrors are laid bare in front of the audience but its focus on those at the bottom of the chain - those with the pink triangle - makes it all the more alarming.
But, as with many of the real-life stories which came out of the camps, Sherman laces his story with hope, hope for change and release, and he ultimately presents a love story of the most tragic kind.
Bent is at South Hill Park until Saturday, July 14, at 7.45pm. Tickets are £10 or £8 for concessions. To book visit http://www.southhillpark.org.uk