by Hannah J Davies
A week on from Holocaust Memorial Day, and beginning on the same night as Auschwitz survivor Arek Hersh’s visit to Durham, 3DTC’s production of Bent held much poignancy. Despite focusing on the treatment of gay people rather than the Jewish populace, Sarah Peters’ interpretation of a 1979 work by Martin Sherman paints a universally bleak picture of persecution in Nazi Germany.
From the opening scenes in a kitsch boudoir between Max and Rudy – a pair of soon-to-be-outlawed lovers – as well as SA man Wolfgang (a brief role but one played emotively by Michael McLauchlan), the dark humour that permeates even Bent’s most harrowing episodes is apparent.
Rory Quinn as dancer Rudy is wickedly neurotic and insecure at the outset, giving no forewarning of his bloody death on route to Dachau at the end of the first act. This murder (on account of his being an “intellectual” and here we were just thinking he was a hipster with those glasses) sparks a series of disturbing torture scenes at the hands of three uniformed SS, chillingly portrayed by Kate Hunter, Charlie Warner and Elizabeth O’Connor (O’Connor in particular deserves a mention for her ability to stand to attention for much of the second act).
Greg Silverman’s formerly debauched, coke-loving Max goes on to brave the concentration camp in the company of Horst (Joe Leather). The sexual tension which builds between these two leads over the course of the next sixty minutes is highly fraught – the audience is aware that the wire structure at the front of the stage isn’t just a metaphor for captivity, but could, at any moment become a live electric fence.
A no-sex sex scene between Silverman and Leather is bizarre and tragic in equal measure, with a host of disorientating scenes (read: Leather and Silverman repeatedly lugging rocks back and forth across the stage) further emphasising the strangeness of a piece that started out in such frivolous fashion.
The inverted pink triangle that Max refuses to wear is an ominous symbol; without a single Swastika, Peters’ impressive production has evoked the horror of the era through its tone, staging and the delivery of its occasional offbeat comedy. Silverman especially stood out as the piece reached its depressing denouement by way of murder, rape, necrophilia and suicide. Highly realistic, although not overly stylised, Bent is chilling in its realism rather than on account of its often abstract nature.