Time for a confession of ignorance. I was completely unaware of Martin Sherman's 1979 play Bent, about the persecution of homosexuals by the Nazis. I was working in Moscow at the time of its first appearance, which I suppose is an excuse. And the subsequent revivals passed me by as well. I was aware of Sherman as the screenwriter for Mrs Henderson Presents, which caught my attention because I had also written a play about the Windmill Theatre in World War Two. Anyway, I came to the revival of Bent at the Trafalgar Studios without any preconceptions, and I have to say I was bowled over. After The Producers, it's a bit tricky putting jackbooted Nazis on stage, and for a while I wondered if the young director Daniel Kramer was going to go completely over the top. I need not have worried. The second half of the play, set in Dachau concentration camp, is more understated and more effective than the first. I can think of few plays I've seen this year that have tugged more at my emotions. It reminded me of seeing Athol Fugard's The Island, with John Kani and Winston Ntshona, set in Robben Island. Bent is an extreme piece of writing which pushes everything as far as it can go, but avoids falling over the edge into bathos and false emotion. Is it a 'gay play'? Perhaps a 'queer play' is a better term, but I found it universal. Alan Cumming's performance in the central role of Max is absolutely outstanding, ably backed up by Kevin Trainor as his lover in Act One, and Chris New as the fellow prisoner Horst in Act Two. The key to Act Two, where Max and Horst carry rocks back and forth across the stage under the gaze of the SS guards, is the setup scene at the beginning where one of the guards reminds the prisoners that he will be up in his watchtower gazing down on their every move. The guard gestures towards the audience, and we immediately know we're in that watchtower as well. Sherman's trick is to let us see the scene through the guard's eyes, but we can hear the words of Max and Horst while the guard cannot. There's a wonderful moment where Max and Horst talk their way to a mutual orgasm while standing rigidly to attention and facing the watchtower. When the SS men reappear on stage the spell is broken. They're more frightening somehow when they're in the characters' imagination. Less is more, as Peter Hall once wrote.