★ | Savage

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Denmark is a country that has a long history of tolerance to gay men and same sex relationships were legal from 1933. With the German occupation of Denmark in World War Two, Copenhagen saw many of its previously openly gay men having to hide and flee. Dutch doctor Carl Peter Vaernet believed that he’d found a cure for this ‘disease’ of male homosexuality.

The Nazis’ belief that being gay was an ‘abnormal existence’ that should be eradicated were sympathetic to his own and he was allowed to experiment on men in Buchenwald concentration camp. His methods were brutal with enforced injections of hormones into men’s testicles.

There’s been a worrying emergence of far right wing groups in recent times and with politicians with links to religious ‘gay cures’ or terrible voting records on LGBT rights emerging from their creepy backwaters in quests for power, it’s a good time to be reminded of the lessons from history. Indeed, British history isn’t squeaky clean and in the 1990s the prime minister apologised for the enforced chemical castration of 49,000 men during the mid twentieth century.

Unfortunately, well intentioned though Claudio Macor is in examining this subject matter, the play fails to engage or shed any new light on history. He focuses on a gay couple, one of who is arrested and experimented upon. Alongside this he offers a contrast to their situation by showing the relationship between a secretly gay, Champagne swilling Nazi officer and a cabaret artiste who he is keeping prisoner. The script feels messy and poorly written with lines that often feel melodramatic and trite. The Nazi general struts about, boasting of torture like something from a cartoon, people stare wistfully into the distance and utter philosophical lines about life and love with misty eyes. This should be a painful play to watch because of its theme but instead is excruciating for other reasons.

The actors are too broad in their gestures for such a small and difficult space and the production is stagey with little hint of reality or genuine emotion. Only Nick Kyle as half of the gay couple manages to make much of the unwieldy script. On a positive note there are some excellent costumes from Jamie Attle and the set by David Shields is clever in making use of a limited area.

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Sadly this is definitely one to give a miss. You’ll learn more about the subject matter from a quick read of Peter Tatchell’s 2015 Guardian article and save yourself a couple of unentertaining hours.


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Savage plays at The Arts Theatre Upstairs until 23rd July 2016

About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He's usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.