THE KING’S HEAD THEATRE.
This tender, brutal and highly charged account of sexual encounters returns in an extended run.
Arthur Schnitzler’s play about a sexual merry-go-round, La Ronde, was written in 1897 and despite being an instant hit, selling an impressive 40,000 copies, it was banned within a year of its publication by the Viennese authorities. When it was finally performed in 1920, Schnitzler was accused of being a pornographer and withdrew the play from public productions.
But its appeal, with ten interlocking scenes between pairs of lovers, has stood the test of the intervening century. The play has been reinterpreted both on stage and on film, including Nicole Kidman’s infamous ‘theatrical Viagra’ performance in David Hare’s Blue Room at London’s Donmar Warehouse.
The King’s Head production of F*ucking Men, by Joe DiPietro, focuses on gay subculture in the city, with HIV, porn, and escorts all playing a part. Smoothly directed by Geoffrey Hyland, the production is subtle, funny and highly entertaining in parts, and undeniably disturbing in others.
Jamie Simmons’ clever interlocking design makes scene changes relatively seamless, with stark but effective lighting from Nic Farman.
Hidden desire and fear of discovery are recurring themes, with Anthony Wise’s successful Journalist horrified at the idea of the married Actor coming clean about his broom-cupboard encounter.
And money, fading looks and the irresistible allure of youth are also dealt with as the Other Married Guy – the supercool, urbane Richard de Lisle – is unable to resist the charm of beautiful Haydn Whiteside as The Porn Star.
Whiteside creates a very appealing account of this young man, untouched as yet by the rigours of his work, and displaying a tender vulnerability in his dreams of finding true love at last.
Johnathon Neal is also strong as the double-dealing Actor, toughing out his public confession and sure that his star power will keep him on the big screen. It doesn’t.
And this is one of the play’s bleaker messages – that being openly gay still means trouble at the very least, and career suicide at worst, for many men.
However, the other side of the coin is that for most of the lovers, they do have fantastic sex, and that of course is what La Ronde is all about – sexual contact leaps across the divides of class, money and marriage just as effectively today as it did in Schnitzler’s nineteenth century Austria.
This a no-holds-barred production and not for the faint hearted, but its powerful and tragi-comic stories are played with truth and clarity by a convincing cast.
Until 26th September
King’s Head Theatre,
Upper Street, Islington
Tel. 0207 226 8561