Schnitzler’s infamous play about love and sex in 1900s Vienna, which began life as a privately published text and banned as a pornographic piece of theatre in 1920, is here reworked to give it a more universal and broader perspective which allows us to examine the ideas and relationships presented without its time lock.
The Harbinger Company, under the directorship of Joel Cottrell, have updated it to an England of the 1950s, where class structures are still very much in evidence and within living memory, if not directly through past experience then through our culture.
It's an atmospheric and amusingly wry look at a past that was, and still is, in our psyche, as we watch somewhat voyeuristically each of the characters in this play move from partner to partner until the circle is complete. The live jazz score, by Rich Daniels, using the words of Baudelaire’s love poetry, provides a unity and commentary on each of the partnerships allowing the scenes to flow with fluidity from one to the next as the characters re-arrange the simple but effective set dominated by a couch and chaise longue.
Between them this multi-talented cast of four play all ten characters. Simon Purdey brilliantly switches from randy old soldier to tortured husband and, finally, a shy, sensitive naïve young member of the upper classes and is well served by having Victoria Fischer as his adversary each time, as prostitute, wife and actress; three strong, convincing performances. Alice Beaumont as the maid and sweet young thing has a naturalness and ease about her that is both captivating and charismatic whilst William Nash as the young man and a poet is suitably flamboyant.
This is a play about verbal foreplay, about play acting and how love and sex are viewed. The most telling dialogue comes from the husband and wife, where it is clear that sex and love in a marriage are not seen as compatible or acceptable and that women come in two sorts. How much have attitudes changed? How much today do we still ignore or accept male liaisons but condemn and vilify women who want sexual pleasure? Go and see this production and make up your own minds, for this is a rare treat.