Interview – Sarah Peters, Director of Bent

‘It was never going to be easy to depict a horrific event like the Holocaust without coming across any obstacles at all.’

bent Directing Holocaust Sarah Peters

DAVID KNOWLES talks to SARAH PETERS, director of Bent

Simple question to start off with, why Bent?

I suppose, far more than anything else, it was the script that drove me to want to be involved with Bent. It is both touching and at moments humourous, but most of all, it is incredibly engaging. The audience are thrust so far into the lives of three men that they share their joy, their pain, and their yearning to just try and stay alive.

In terms of the subject matter, I think that there is an obsession with shying away from subjects like the Holocaust, because people are terrified of causing offence. This play is incredibly important to do exactly the opposite; to remind people that the Holocaust did happen; it isn't the stuff of legend. The minute we forget that, and stop talking about it, is the minute that we start disrespecting the memories of those who died.

How difficult was it to direct a play about the Holocaust?

Well, it was never going to be easy to depict a horrific event like the Holocaust without coming across any obstacles at all. Of course, at the forefront of one's mind is the desire to ensure that you accurately understand the events that occurred and you don't disrespect the memory of millions of people who lost their lives.

Then, of course, you have to try and put that on the stage. Some people say that to try and represent the events of World War II, and duplicate the feelings and emotions of prisoners who underwent traumas that we would never even imagine, is crass and disrespectful. And at the end of the day, this is theatre: we're never going to literally be the people we're portraying.

But whilst, of course, I have not by any means subjected the actors to the same terrors that befell the prisoners in concentration camps in any warped form of method acting, Sherman's script really aids the actors, especially Greg and Joe, as well as myself to portray the weariness and suffering of the prisoners to create a very touching piece of theater.

Did you change your directing style to suit the play?

As this is my directorial debut, I have to say I haven't! Bent, more than any other play I know, has a huge focus on character. The audience become involved with the characters to such an extent that by the end, they should be so invested in their lives that their fate is as important as their own. So, there was a huge amount of character work, especially with Greg and Joe, focused on during the rehearsal process.

I also have a real obsession with the language of a piece and worked for hours with the actors on exactly how to say certain lines; the sentiment and motivation behind each particular word. As the entirety of the second act is set in the same location, with one monotonous action underlying it, one cannot rely on exciting movement to grab the audience's attention with Bent, it has to be about the characters.

What was the most interesting aspect of the production for you?

Learning about the events that inspired the play, I suppose. I have been fairly well educated about the Holocaust through school, as well as through Synagogue. But never did I know more than I know now about the persecution of everyone else, other than the Jewish people. This whole process has been one big education for me.

Do you have a philosophy of directing that you could summarise for us?

Two-way communication is the key. If you can't communicate to your actors what you're looking for, you'll never get what you want. But, at the same time, there is no-one who will understand a character better than the person who is playing it. There is no point in merely dictating what you want to see; the whole rehearsal process should be a two way discussion between Actor and Director…

The DurhamOne review of Bent is coming soon!