Savage

Claudio Macor
LWL Entertainment Ltd
Above the Arts

Alexander Huetson as Nikolai Bergsen and Nik Kyle as Zack Travis Credit: Roy Tan
Gary Fannin as Dr Carl Peter Vaernet, Kritian Simeonov as Guard, Alexander Huetson as Nikolai Bergsen and Bradley Clarkson as General Heinrich von Aechelman Credit: Roy Tan
Kristian Simeonov as Goran and Lee Knight as George Jensen Credit: Roy Tan

Carl Peter Vaernet was a Danish doctor who claimed to have developed a “cure” for homosexuality and who experimented on prisoners in Buchenwald. In 1998, Peter Tatchell began a campaign to expose how he had evaded prosecution for war crimes.

A GP who claimed his researches into hormone treatments had produced cures for diseases, including the “disease” of homosexuality, he had joined the Danish National Socialist party in the 1930s and, after Germany’s invasion of Denmark, gained SS support for his researches. In 1944, they transferred him to Prague from where he had access to the concentration camp inmates.

Dr Vaernet’s experimental treatment is the core of this drama, which through two fictional strands explores its possible effect on a Danish victim and a gay German general’s relationship with another victim of fascism.

Claudio Macor starts his play in a Copenhagen bar where the proprietor drag diva George Jensen is giving his last performance before closure. Danish law did not criminalise homosexuality but the German invasion put gay men in danger. After leaving the club, a gay couple, Nikolai Bergsen, who works in an art gallery, and Zack Travis, a junior American diplomat, are arrested. Travis goes free but Bergsen is taken to Vaernet.

In the parallel story, Jensen, also made prisoner, catches the eye of a high-ranking German officer. This Nazi is Vaernet’s link to the SS, his sexual proclivities an ironic twist to the story. Macor doesn’t give enough information to suggest how that exploitive relationship was kept secret or how Nikolai survived in hiding with Vaernet’s nurse. Such things did happen but without explanation they do strain credulity, which puts all the emphasis on the actors to make them believable.

Nikolai is traumatised by Vaernet’s treatment (injections of testosterone directly into the testicles) with profound psychological effects which leads to a moving scene when he and his lover are at last united, which is passionately played by Alexander Huetson and Nic Kyle.

None of the characters is written with much depth but Gary Fannin makes Dr Vaernet not obviously evil but rather a weak man grasping at opportunities to give himself status. Lee Knight gives George Jensen a restrained defiance, making a clichéd representation of gay bravery more real. Christopher Hines is suitably pukka as a conventionally prejudiced English Major; Bradley Clarkson is the fetishist General persecuting his own kind and Emily Lynne the nurse unwillingly involved in Vaernet’s experiments.

With homosexuals persecuted and homophobia still rampant in many places, this play about past sufferings is pertinent, but in telling these interlinked stories the writer gives them equal prominence and they are equally lacking in detail. Savage feels wanting. Concentrating on one of its strands might be more effective.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton