When I was invited to watch SAVAGE a new play by Claudio Macor, I must say the subject matter wasn’t one that excited me at first glance: “a tale of love amidst the brutal true story of a Nazi War Criminal”. With the fallout that the UK is experiencing after the Brexit debacle I didn’t think I could face more sadness and horror. I was so very wrong though. This play is fantastic and is a ‘must-see’. In fact, I’m championing the production for a transfer to a larger venue.
Set in the 1940s in Copenhagen, Claudio has created a play based on the real life Dr Carl Peter Vaernet (Played by Gary Fannin). At the time of the Third Reich Dr Vaernet created a “cure for homophobia”. A savage injection, which was injected, without anaesthetic, in to men’s testicles. This injection was meant to cure them of their sexual feelings for other men! Dr Vaernet offered this “cure” in Denmark with support from the Nazi regime and later from the post-war British government.
With this as the backdrop to the play, Claudio explores the people who may have come in to contact with Vaernet, the times in which they lived and the after effects of the administration of the “cure”. One feels that there would be little hope, however, what comes across more powerfully than anything else in this play is the love that people have for each other, gay and straight. Also, that LOVE IS LOVE, as much as a “rose is a rose”. We experience the power of love when faced with adversity.
For those of you like myself, who have never been to a production upstairs above The Arts Theatre, it’s a small venue requiring a minimal set. Savage’s set works well. It is simplistic and fits well into this compact space. A row of sliding doors that open and rotate to provide backdrops for various locations revealing a hospital, interrogation room, front rooms and parlours of various characters. The props are very minimal so when we do see a prop being used it has a huge impact – a needle, a bible, a faded piece of paper holding a phone number.
The performance level in this production is superb, for me there are three outstanding performers; Gary Fannin as Dr Vaernet, Bradley Clarkson, as General Heinrich von Aechelman and Emily Lynee as Ilse Paulsen. However, all of the cast should be praised for their commitment to character and their top level delivery. There is a lot of subtext in this play which comes out through non-verbal communication.
Although the subject matter means the play is difficult to watch; I burst in to tears twice in the first half and again in the second, there are some beautiful, hopeful images that will be etched into my heart and mind forever. These include a scene where Nikolai Bergsen (played by Alexander Huetson) sits, a shell of his former self in Ilse Paulsen’s (Emily Lynne) front room, Ilse sings a beautiful song of hope and passes him a bible. A beautiful scene that focuses on the power of a bigger love, the love of mankind, a god and rebellion against the system. Lynne has a sublime singing voice and performs the number beautifully at just the right tempo. Ordinarily a character bursting into song for no reason would annoy me, however, the tone and pitch was just right, I 100% believed that Isle would do this as a coping mechanism, to appease her guilt, also as a sign of her faith.
Any scene with Bradley Clarkson (General Heinrich Von Aechelman) and Gary Fannin (Dr Vaernet) is superb. I cannot commend these actors enough. Fannin and Clarkson have difficult characters to play, requiring them to change from dominance to submission, from power to prisoner. Both actors perform their inner turmoil through their body language and non-spoken communication brilliantly. Both characters sending chills to my spine as I hear their words and watch their action. Again, another scene to note well, Fannin (Dr Vaernet) sat in an interrogation room, stripped of his white coat and shoelaces, we see how the mighty have fallen and then rise again.
Other scenes that will stick in my mind for a long time are those which explore the power play between The General, (Bradley Clarkson ) and Geog, (Lee Knight ).
Via some beautifully executed scenes we witness an exchange in power between these characters; captor becomes captive, the submissive become dominant and the General reveals himself as a closeted and desperate character. This is a tour de force of a performance by Clarkson. He gets the balance just right, his physicality denying the words that come from his voice as he falls deeper for his prisoner and confuses imprisonment for affection. The crude and raw way he treats other people, the dismissive way he touches Isle’s hair and the way he is compelled to drink champagne continuously to hide his inner turmoil all add to the vile Nazi character that we all love to hate.
The only answer for this character is death and Clarkson takes us with him through every part of the General’s journey as he battles with his professional and personal life.
All in all I cannot thank Claudio enough for opening my eyes to these travesties. Initially I thought a play like Savage would inspire action or protest to the British and Danish governments to bring war criminals to justice. However, I left the play feeling that love is bigger than that. Forgiveness and love are the way forward. For that I am thankful.
Review by Faye Stockley
LWL Investments & Entertainment Limited presents the world premiere of ‘SAVAGE’, a new play written and directed by Claudio Macor.
COPENHAGEN 1940. With the Nazi occupation of Denmark, life did not change much. Zack and Nikolai enjoy their glamorous, hedonistic life and the paradise of cabaret. Their world is shattered when Doctor Carl Peter Værnet discovers what he believed to be “the cure for homosexuality”. He’s applauded by the Nazi regime and encouraged with his experiments. This important New Play exposes a heart-breaking love story amidst the brutal and savage TRUE STORY of an obsessed Nazi war criminal.
Performances: 29th June – 23rd July at 7.30pm. Saturday matinees at 2.30pm.
Duration: 2 hours
Age recommendation: 16 + Please be aware his show contains nudity and graphic content throughout