In 1979, a play called Bent by Martin Sherman was performed onstage for the first time and it shocked everyone. In 2016 at The Stage Door in Southampton, the very same play was performed and despite the thirty years that have passed, the experience was just as shocking.
The performance was of many things – controversial, fascinating, terrifying, uncomfortable in some places but hauntingly beautiful at the same time. The actors had a talented ability to send the audience into a silent gaze that found their hearts beating much faster. The discomfort of emotions that the play raised is not to be judged as a negative reaction, but instead a reaction that meant our hearts were breaking just as much as the characters in the story. The audience witnessed and felt the reality of what it was like to suffer through the Holocaust, the prejudice of not only the Jews but those who were homosexual. When most people think of the Holocaust they think of Jews as the primary victims. However, Bent showed us another perspective from those that were gay and the torture that they too endured.
Something beautiful that the performance achieved was that even within the darkest and painful of times, human beings are able to find their humanity when treated like animals, as well as create meaningful bonds with other people that are powerful enough to override evil. Despite the torturous events that were happening, the innate need to connect with others was never forgotten and it was the connections between the victims that kept their morality and sense of self strong. Perhaps the most beautiful moment of all though, was the play’s ending. Throughout most of the play, gay protagonist Max hides his sexuality behind a yellow badge given to him by the Nazi’s that labels him as a Jew. Horst, another victim proudly wears a pink badge that signifies he is a gay man, and with that comes the result of the most unfair treatment – gays are worse than Jews. There won’t be any spoilers here, but after a long time of hiding and battling the truth, he triumphs as it is the truth that sets him free and by the end of the play, let’s just say Max’s badge is no longer yellow.
Bent was an experience that all audiences need. People need to be shocked, to have their emotions brought to the surface and their eyes opened about events that matter. For the gay community especially, the play speaks volumes as it shows how far the fight against homophobia and discrimination has come. It is a reminder that no label, no suffering and no evil can ever completely kill what we were born with – our humanity.