During the morning of this press night, we had respectfully remembered a hundred years since the Battle of the Somme had started. The bloodiest of battles, where an enormous number of men were casualties or lost their lives during this chapter of World War One. It therefore felt extremely poignant that I was attending a play about Nazi’s and the Second World War. However this is no ordinary war play, but rather, it documents a specific time and person whose experiments and beliefs were so unbelievably barbaric it made you feel sick to the stomach even thinking about it.
Set in 1940 in Copenhagen Denmark, where Dr Carl Vaernet (Gary Fannin) claims to have found a “cure” for homosexuality. Two men have fallen in love Nikolai Bergsen (Alexander Huetson) and American diplomat Zack Travis (Nic Kyle), both are visiting a cabaret club where we see Georg Jensen (Lee Knight) giving his final performance before closing its doors for the final time. Upon leaving the nightclub Heutson and Kyle walk home, however they are set upon by the Nazi’s and Heutson is arrested and taken away. Kyle desperately searches for his lover but when America joins the war following Pear Harbour, he returns home. What happens to Heutson is beyond belief as we witness the doctor conduct his experiment, in an attempt to establish a more than comfortable life for himself and his family. Nazi General Heinrich Von Aechelman (Bradley Clarkson) is keen to seek evidence of this cure and thereby the continuation of “purification”. This would then free space in the concentration camps which would then make way for more “undesirables” such as Jews to take. He himself harbouring the deepest of secrets of his own homosexuality which in time even alcohol could not absolve him and he took his own life.
Even as I type the above, it strikes me that this cannot possibly be a true story? Could someone be so misguided and barbaric, that this could have really happened or has it just been created as a fictional piece of work by writer and director Claudio Macor. Unfortunately it is the horrific, repugnant truth that this did indeed happen. Men’s lives were completely destroyed by this monster of a man seeking for self glory and to save his own skin. This doctor is, the man who got away, had absolutely no remorse, and offered no apology for these hideous war crimes that he committed.
The acting delivered by the main characters was so real that you felt every emotion you were meant to. Love, desperation, desolation, repugnance, hatred and self loathing. They made you squirm, look away and fear what you were about to see.
This play was staged in a room above the Arts Theatre which was perfect for it. Effortlessly changing from cabaret venue, to street scene, interrogation room and apartments. It’s intimate and claustrophobically hot feeling adding to the intense sobering piece before us.
Every actor on this stage was integral to this play for even without the supportive, empathetic nurse, Emily Lynne, or guards Christopher Hines and Kristian Simeonov you would not feel the immense gravitas of the hideous crimes against these men.
I confess before seeing this play I knew nothing of these “experiments”. This is one of those plays which I cannot say I enjoyed, it sickened me that fellow human beings could be so disrespectful of others lives. What moved me was the playwright Claudio Macor introduction before the commencement of the evening. The realisation that with recent events in Orlando, we have not moved on, despite all those years passing. Misguided and disturbed people are still amongst us and whilst we would all like to believe that they are not, the evidence is heartbreakingly real.
The timing of this run compounded by recent events, is a timely reminder to all of devastating bigotry. A disturbing, vital piece which gives an unheard abhorrent story a voice. A wrong that can’t be put right but that none the less should be told as stark truth and warning of misguided beliefs leading to uncomprehendable atrocities.
Outstandingly acted by all with particular mentions to Heautson, Fannin, Clarkson, Kyle and Knight. Harrowing but vital viewing on until 22nd July for more information and to book check out this link
Savage – Arts Theatre West End