As I was nearing the end of the Broadway run of The Threepenny Opera, I was asked to play Max in Bent at the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End. I had actually decided I didn't want to do any theatre for a while, but opportunities like this don't come along very often.
Bent is one of the most amazing plays I have ever been in. It tells the story of a gay man, Max, who is living with his boyfriend Rudy in Berlin in the 1930s. The play begins the morning after the Night of the Long Knives - a Nazi purge against Ernst Rohm and his SA - which effectively ended the decadent world of the Weimar era.
Max and Rudy are forced to go on the run and are eventually captured. On the train to Dachau Max is forced to beat Rudy to death to prove to the guards he is not a homosexual. Later in the camp he falls in love with fellow prisoner Horst, whose ultimate death makes Max accept himself and his homosexuality as never before.
The reason I think the play is so great is that audiences have a visceral reaction to it. It is a very rare thing in the theatre. It is of course a harrowing thing to play someone who is going through what Max goes through, but I used to feel sorry for the unsuspecting audience who had to go down the road to hell with him and are spat out at the end.
The play was first performed in 1979 at the Royal Court in London and Ian McKellen played Max. It subsequently moved to Broadway where Richard Gere played him. Ian came to see a preview with Micheal Cashman (who had played Horst in the last London production) and ended up coming with me and the rest of the boys to make an appearance at the club G.A.Y. and exhorting the throngs to come and see us.
When Bent was first performed it did a great deal to highlight the treatment of gays under the Third Reich, a topic that had been swept under the carpet for generations. It still is very shocking and because of the intense nature of its subject matter in all aspects, it is able to evoke very violent reactions in people. As much as it was arduous and exhausting, I loved every minute of it.
The cast was amazing. Maybe because of what we had to do onstage every night, off stage we had an absolute blast. The oldest bent boy but always the last to leave was Martin Sherman the playwright (we call him the Sherminator), an amazing man with stories that you will not believe!
Bent really challenged me. Physically I had to lose a lot of weight (annoyingly I had bulked up a bit to play Mac the Knife!) and Ann Yee the movement director put us through daily boot camp that gave me muscles in places I never wanted to get them, and Daniel Kramer the director pushed me to places that were not very pleasant to go to but utterly necessary for the rawness and the pain that had to emanate from such a story.