Review: Rugby Theatre’s Bent is powerful, moving and vital

Paul Vickers (left) and Ben Handforth in Rugby Theatre production of Bent
Paul Vickers (left) and Ben Handforth in Rugby Theatre production of Bent

Ed Green reviews Bent at Rugby Theatre

Bent is a production about homosexual men in 1930’s Nazi occupied Germany - and is most likely the most emotionally moving piece of theatre you will see this year.

The very talented Nathan Dowling directs this wonderfully contemporary piece written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Sherman and makes it look easy. His ability to utilise sound, lighting and visual effects to depict a terrifying epoch in European history is remarkable. The feelings of movement, anxiety, fear and warm passions are brought onto the stage to immerse the audience into the struggles of oppressed minorities during the Third Reich.

Paul Vickers as the pragmatic, self loathing, mentally tortured Max is very convincing, and Alan Pavis’s depiction of the defiant and openly gay Horst is testament to his talents, having being cast just days before opening. Vickers’ acting illustrates the struggle brilliantly as the Max you’re introduced to is not the Max in the final scene and his transformation through within the two hours is eye-opening.

Ben Handforth is superb as Rudy playing the effeminate ying to Max’s yang, their relationship unfurling as pragmatism versus passion, Max being the realist protector of Rudy the head-in-the-clouds lover. Poignant dialogue draws the viewer in only for the complementary sound and lighting to bring reality crashing in again. Props were uncomfortably realistic as they should be: barbed fencing, real rocks for physical labour Horst’s sunburn from outdoor exposure show the level of detail. The use of genuine archive Hitler speeches gave an unnerving authenticity to the production. With only a few fluffed lines, the dialogue was emotive and long, difficult maybe for both actor and viewer but well rewarded in the finale.

This is not a dark crawl through misery: comical sprinklings break up the severity, with light hearted one-liners from the ever optimistic Rudy and Horst. More interaction from other characters is lacking but that is a gripe with the script not the production. This is vital theatre.

* Bent runs until Saturday May 14. Call (01788) 541234 to book.