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I studied Martin Sherman’s play Bent at University so was prepared for the gritty narrative and shocking script. As an extra incentive, it’s currently on at the dinky Tabard Theatre in Chiswick, a theatre I have always wanted to visit.
Bent was written in 1979 and offers an insight into the persecution of gay men in Nazi Germany. “Bent” was a slang term for homosexuals at the time. The original West End production starred Ian McKellen, and Richard Gere was in the first Broadway show in 1980.
The tiny Tabard is a suitable venue for this gripping play, and being so close to the action makes it almost unbearable to watch at times.
Russell Morton gives the performance of a lifetime as the moody Max, he seems completely engrossed in the role throughout. Previously in the year Morton won a best fringe actor nomination with the same production at the Landor Theatre.
Steven Butler is endearing as Max’s needy partner Rudy, although I did find myself getting irritated by his whiney voice. David Flynn is striking as Horst and works beautifully on stage with Morton. Flynn adds subtle nuances to his character that makes the two men’s relationship even more believable.
The cramped space and dark set make the whole experience terrifyingly claustrophobic. Barbed-wire walls trap the characters on stage and two large Nazis trap the audience in their seats. Despite knowing the play I found this rendition deeply disturbing at times, sometimes almost having to cover my eyes. Director Andrew Keates has done an expert job bringing out the best qualities of Sherman’s play and adding more.
Although the Tabard is small it houses large talent, with this production of Bent fetching many glowing 4-star reviews. With a lovely pub downstairs the whole venue has a friendly atmosphere. Throughout August you can see brilliant comedians including Alex Zane and Al Murray performing at the venue.