Martin Sherman’s Bent, since its Royal Court premiere in 1979, has been revived innumerable times; not least in London, where a West End run starring Alan Cumming was recently well received.
A film version, directed by Sean Matthias, brought together Clive Owen, Ian McKellen and Mick Jagger.
Perhaps the enduring popularity of this holocaust love story, at least with producers, can be explained a little by changing social attitudes and correspondingly changing audience reaction to its harrowing events over time. But even in post-Section 28 2010 Britain, Bent is larger than the sum of its parts.
Yes, Bent sheds historical light on a too rarely reported aspect of Hitler’s murderous regime, the plight of homosexuals; yes, it is a gay play. But it transcends time and its characters as a study of the human condition, both at a personal and geopolitical level. Why does Max behave as he does towards his two lovers, and would he behave differently were they women? And was Hitler’s volte face against homosexuals political expediency to crush rivals, or a deepseated, fear-driven conviction? How far does the universal urge for self-preservation and advancement override all else?
This ADK/Theatrica take renders already overwhelming emotions all the more intense in the Landor Theatre’s intimate space, which demands thriftily efficient set design and spotlights the talents of the cast.
Under director/producer Andrew Keates they are, to a man – no women in this play – perfectly cast and convincing. John Barr’s drag queen Greta is far more ruthless and dominant than expected, while Richard Beanland’s Horst magnetises sympathy for his daring to fall in love. Through it all Russell Morton’s imperfect everyman Max does his best to step gingerly over the assorted hurdles the impossible situation lays in his path.
Bent, 30 years on, is showing every sign of taking on the status of a timeless text. This production presents all that recommends it with panache and nuanced understanding, both of its theatrical potential and its instructive message.