More sex please, we’re British

first_imgVice is the order of the day as Oxford’s theatres shamelessly ‘sex up’ their repertoire, in an attempt to banish the Fifth Week blues. From incest in Phaedra’s Love to the oldest profession in the world in Lulu, this is not a week for the faint or pure of heart to venture into the OFS, or other such dens of iniquity. Lulu provoked moral outrage in the nineteenth century with its prostitute protagonist and portrayal of a society mired in vice and corruption. Lulu is picked up off the streets as a child by a wealthy businessman, and proceeds to climb the social ladder via a series of marriages and affairs, bewitching all who cross her path. Her complete amorality has destructive consequences as she leaves suicides, murders and bankruptcy in her wake. Lulu’s complex character prevents the audience from condemning her outright; this production makes it abundantly clear that it is society which is to blame. It is a world of dissipation and decadence, in which children are viewed as sex objects, teetering on the brink of the abyss of vice, where husbands are shot by their wives and die whilst drinking champagne. Lulu is the means by which this society is unveiled, as she uncovers the hidden desires of those around her. Alwa is reduced to a worm writhing at her feet and the Countess begs Lulu to ‘trample’ her. In this sense, Lulu is innocent, a mere catalyst for the realisation of society’s sordid fantasies. Yet she is dangerously aware of the manipulative power of her sexuality. Both her narcissism and her role as reflecting the degradation of society are realised on the stage, by means of two huge mirrors which make up the backdrop. Although interesting in theory, the duality of Lulu’s personality fails to come to life on stage. Victoria Ross captures the underlying naivety of Lulu, with her ringlets and ‘baby eyes’, but lacks the sexual magnetism which is crucial if we are to believe in her destructive, enchanting powers. The erotic speeches are faithfully delivered (albeit in cut glass Queen’s English), but there is a lack of chemistry in her interaction with others. Ben Levine looks perfect as Schoning, his goatee beard bristling with Machiavellian intent, but he overacts and his movements are unforgivably stiff. Mischa Foster-Poole is similarly unconvincing as Alwa, hapless and embarrassed as he talks dirty to Lulu. There are some gems, including Charlie Covell as the engaging lesbian Countess, who wears a tailcoat over her ballgown and dominates the stage with her deep, resonant voice. Her transformation into a gibbering wreck when faced with the prospect of sleeping with a man is both subtle and amusing. Ed Behrens is wonderful as Puntschu, the banker with an unhealthy obsession for young girls, delivering his sleazy lines with a sinister camp lisp. The beautiful costumes, designed by Rmishka Singh, deserve a mention as they make an invaluable contribution to the sense of period. This is a thoughtful production of Luluwith all of the right ingredients for success. Undoubtedly marred by a lack of sexual tension on the stage, it remains a provocative and thought-provoking piece of theatre.ARCHIVE: 3rd week TT 2004last_img read more