Suzy Hawes talks to the director and cast of Ethrael Theatre’s upcoming production of ‘Bent’.
“Max and Rudy are sent to Dachau concentration camp. Their crime: being gay. Set in Nazi Germany during and after the Night of the Long Knives, BENT follows the life of Max, a young gay man, and his experience at Dachau. He meets Horst, another gay man, in the camp, and their friendship develops during their conversations moving rocks – a punishment intended to drive them mad. Based on the real experiences of prisoners in Dachau, BENT explores the important and untold story of gay men in World War II.”
How did you come across ‘Bent’ and why did you want to put it on?
Lauren Hitchman (Director): I came across ‘Bent’ a few years ago. I went to see it with a friend in Oxford and I just thought it was such an incredible play. I’ve wanted to put it on for a very long time. I thought that since I’m leaving I should probably do it soon and I just think it’s really a fantastic piece of theatre.
How emotionally challenging has it been working on such a traumatic subject?
Harvey Comerford (Horst): It’s not a bundle of laughs, is it?
Hugh Train (Max): No, but it’s the kind of thing where the more traumatic the play, the more you try and find it fun. Otherwise it would just be quite soul-destroying. It has been a fun week and you try to joke about as much as you can. You try to milk out the bits of humour where possible, otherwise it would just be cripplingly awful.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
HT: There’s a big shift in terms of my character from the first half to the second half. I have to go from being a promiscuous, happy-go-lucky man living in Berlin, to a broken man in Dachau, which isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world.
HC: I’ve got a very similar thing where it’s a physical and mental decline, but in a shorter period of time because I’m only in the second half.
HT: A lot of time passes in this play between scenes and you have to portray that which is actually quite difficult. A lot happens in the time that passes.
What is the most important thing about the show?
HC: It’s a less well-documented part of the Holocaust, so in that sense it’s definitely a story worth telling.
LH: I think that’s so important. The way that homosexuals were persecuted in Nazi Germany is a really untold story. The memorial at Dachau only started including homosexuals four or five years ago.
HT: It’s a very good play. Its moral message is incredibly clear but it’s not like “listen, listen to it!” It takes you on a horrible ride but it’s very well written and there are genuine moments of lightness.
LH: It’s beautifully written. He’s a really skilled playwright.
How do you think ‘Bent’ can relate to a student audience, or is it a good thing if it doesn’t?
HC: It is abstract and completely ungraspable, but at the same time it’s important that we know about it.
LH: I think he wants you to relate to the human aspect of it. So you can’t understand the suffering but I think the whole point of even doing a play is to make you feel something more than you would feel if you didn’t go and see a play about it.
HT: It’s a very brief snapshot into one person’s story but it tells quite a lot through that. You’re not just having statistics thrown at you, it’s a very human account of a terrible thing.
Why should people come and see this production?
HC: Well Hugh Train has his shirt off, which attracts the masses every time.
LH: See Hugh in his last ever Assembly Rooms play. It’s also going to be visually striking.
HT: We build Dachau in the Assembly Rooms. It’s a weird thing to brag about – “We are going to build Dachau” – but we are. We have a real fence. But mainly the fact that it’s an excellent and important story that needs telling.
‘Bent’ will be performed at the Assembly Rooms as part of the Durham Festival of Arts, Thu 4 Jun – Sat 6 Jun, 19:30.
Tickets: Standard £6.50, Student £6.00, DST £5.50.
Photos: Isabelle Culkin