On the centenary of the battle of the Somme, where over a million people were killed, we headed to the Arts Theatre in London to see a play about the second world war, and an equally abhorrent moment in human history.
Savage was a play about Dr. Carl Vaernet, a Danish GP who claimed to have found the cure for homosexuality. Through his own and Denmark’s collusion with the Nazis, he was able to carry out a series of grossly inhumane procedures, which he believed rid a person of the ‘homosexual disease’. The play centred on his work but also on a gay couple in Copenhagen: Nikolai, a danish citizen, and Zack, an assistant at the American embassy. When caught late at night sharing a kiss on the streets, Nikolai is dragged off and ends up as one of Vaernet’s patients. Zack on the other hand is released due to his diplomatic immunity. There is also an interesting side story about a Nazi official in Copenhagen, who besides supervising all this, has to conceal his own sexuality.
This was definitely a story that needed to be told and warranted theatrical treatment. However the way this story was told was inferior to the merits of the story. Written by Claudio Macor, the play’s weaknesses lay in its form. Expectations about the passage of time during the play were confused by the action. It swept across a good 6 years, maybe, but some scenes seemed stuck in time. In other scenes, action and dialogue seemed normal whilst other moments whizzed by unnaturally. In addition, music was suddenly added, and set changes were clunky and distracting. In such a small space, the staging did not help the audience as sight-lines were restricted.
Despite all this however, there were positive aspects to the piece. The story about the Nazi general and cabaret artiste, Georg, was interesting and made the more compelling by fantastic performances from Bradley Clarkson and Lee Knight. There were in fact a number of excellent actors in this piece that raised the show above the quality of the text. Gary Fannin as the Danish doctor was wonderful in his ignorance and self-belief, whilst Nik Kyle was utterly compelling as the American, Zack.
Overall, this play seemed to have a bit of an identity crisis. Did it want to be a play or a screenplay? And what were the key stories within it? There was some fantastic acting, but there was also very wooden acting. There is a story in here, but we think it needs a bit of a reworking.
Highlight of the piece – Bradley Clarkson’s Nazi, showing us a troubled man in a very challenging situation.