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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BENT (article first published : 2001-10-11)

Martin Sherman's 1979 play about the treatment homosexuals received under the Nazis is a powerful, gruelling piece of theatre which has stood up well to the passage of over 20 years. And it is a salutary reminder that as early as 1936 while the Olympics were being held with great fanfare in Berlin, gays, Jews and others were already dying in Dachau.

The action opens in a Berlin flat where Max, the heir to a button factory who has been disowned by his family, is living with his lover Rudy, a dancer in a nightclub. Their dissipated Bohemian life is about to be shattered by the arrival of Nazi stormtroopers, in pursuit of another young man Max has picked up the night before. From then on, Max and Rudy are on the run.

Inevitably, they are picked up, loaded into a cattle truck - a particularly effective use of lighting here - and taken to Dachau where the whole of the second half of the play takes place as we watch Max, aided by another inmate, Horst, slowly coming to see that there has to be more to life than making deals and saving his own skin. Loyalty and love can exist, even under hideous circumstances.

It is a very ambitious project for young actors, though Dean Roberts (Max), Justin Southey (Rudy) and James Aitchison (Horst) are probably not much younger than the characters they are portraying. It is all credit to director Paul Datlen that his cast manage, often through no more than facial expressions or body language, to portray the necessary emotion as the play moves to its predictable but still moving finale. Greig Coetzee, in blonde wig, false eyelashes and fishnet tights for his cameo role as a world-weary nightclub owner and singer, is a useful foil to emphasise the youth of the protagonists.

Roberts, whose character has to show the most development, is convincing as the selfish, hedonistic Max with his built-in ability to manipulate the system. Southey is a likeable Rudy, while Aitchison shines as the independent, brave Horst, making his every expression and movement tell in a fine performance.

Good use is made of the Hexagon stage, and the set and lighting are excellent and atmospheric. The play is made up of a number of short scenes, which give the piece a staccato feel. The urgency this suggests could have been emphasised if the action had been tightened up somewhat - once or twice things seemed to be moving a little slowly. And the dramatic impact of the final scene was not quite there on opening night, but this is still an excellent production of a far from straightforward play. - Margaret von Klemperer

Bent runs at the Hexagon until Saturday with performances at 19h30 nightly. Tickets R25 (R15 students and staff), available at the door or from (031) 260 5537 (mornings). The production is not suitable for children.




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