James Corrigan’s production of Bent by Martin Sherman, a play dealing with the Nazi suppression of the homosexuals, is a thought-provoking and ambitious piece, and one which will certainly engender much discussion when it opens at the O’Reilly.
The giggles of the press preview audience at the onstage nudity in the opening scene were soon silenced by the actors’ believable portrayal of the anguished suffering in concentration camps, even without the visual aid of the piles of corpses which will provide a focal point in the final performance.
Chris Greenwood put in a moving performance as Max, the play’s central character. It is one of the play’s great strengths that Max is not merely painted as a victim but as an emotionally complex character. Perhaps slightly more attention could have been paid to considering the effects of Max’s wealthy background on his characterisation as this came slightly as a surprise.
Max’s boyfriend Rudy (Matt Gavan) provided a neat contrast to the central role and some humour. Gavan’s movements around the stage felt very natural, yet although his vocal performance was obviously designed to be in opposition to Max’s, delivery was a little too rushed at times – something easily correctible before the play’s opening.
Joe Eyre (as Horst) and Jared Fortune (as Wolf) played some difficult scenes with conviction, although Fortune’s simpering glances at Max in the first scene were a little too comic. The contrast between Fortune’s death throes and Jacob Lloyd’s rendition of ‘Streets of Berlin’ provided one of the play’s most powerful passages, showing subtly of direction.
One weakness in characterisation which all the actors shared, with the partial exception of Brian McMahon (as Uncle Freddie), was a separation from the time period. While the concentration camp setting was gruellingly believable, there was little sense that this was 1930s Berlin at the play’s opening – a problem which needs to be looked at not only in terms of costume and set design but in individual performances.
Further design elements should add a lot to this production. The fence which will be constructed between the audience and the actors should be a particularly effective design tool – not only highlighting the segregation of the gay community but placing the audience in a fittingly voyeuristic position. Bent is an ambitious and well-executed piece in which minor errors will be ironed out easily before performance. It should prove very popular at the O’Reilly next week.