Friday 2 September 2016

Bordello - Theatre Review

What: Bordello
When: Oct 13 – 17
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
Created by: Gabrielle Savrone and Thomas Ian Doyle

Bordello is dark and dirty and sexy and funny.  This style of performance making is a new direction for Theatre owners Savronne and Doyle, and I have to say that it is a stunningly clever interpretation of the building and its possibilities.

The Owl and Cat is a repurposed shop front terrace style building, the kind found all over the older suburbs of Melbourne.  In its usual configuration the ground floor is the theatre and the bar, level two is the green room, dressing room and office, and to be honest, I didn’t even realise there was a third floor garret.

For the next few days, though, The Owl and Cat is a smoky bordello oozing sex and seething with intrigue, unrequited love, and sex triangles…or maybe they are sex hectagons? Played with a nuanced melodrama, and performed as structured improvisation over the course of an hour, the audience is permitted to roam at will around the venue to create their own experience of the story.

Unfortunately there is no program, so I can’t tell you who the actors are, but the characters they portray are clearly defined and progress through the evening with clearly defined objectives. The performances are not all at the same level, but this degree of unstructured performance would challenge even the best in the craft.

The energy of the show is driven by the three ‘working’ girls; Trisha, Frankie, and Cherry.  Trisha is a whirlwind of energy (and a swindler), Frankie is a tortured soul looking for love, and Cherry is very funny and witty but also very damaged and afraid of love. They are managed by the imperious madam Yvonne, who is in the middle of a divorce from David who has been seeing Frankie. Harry is madly in love with Cherry, and Matthew just wants his money’s worth.

This is not a ‘build your own adventure’ event.  It is more like ‘choose your own order of scenes’ experience.  You can wander anywhere, anytime across all three levels and see what is going on and watch the story unfold.  You can choose to follow a particular character, or (as I did) flit from room to room and scene to scene to construct a mosaic of images and extracts which form the full picture.  Either way, you will get the complete story. 

This is the genius of the construction of Bordello.  The actors are carefully clear in constantly telling us who they are talking about and who has just walked in the room which is important because they move and we move, so it is easy to get confused.

The temptation is to follow the action and the loudest voices but I found myself enjoying the moments when actors were alone.  The audience are handed masques to wear throughout the performance, and this is a parallel to the idea that we all wear masks in public. 

When the actors were alone though, I felt as though they were removing their masks and I could get a glimpse at the real depths of pain and despair and loss and confusion they were experiencing. This was a moment of intimacy between me and them which I would never be able to experience in a normal theatrical setting.

As I walked through the performance, I found myself imagining I was a camera and I was constructing my own movie from an existing set of elements: The divorce papers being signed; the illicit kiss between Trisha and Frankie; Matthew taking a shower (yes there is nudity); Harry nervously pacing as he prepares to propose…  The material is all there for the taking, all we have to do is gather it all in our own unique ways.

Savronne and Doyle have created an extremely clever and funny and sexy piece of immersive theatre which is incredibly well suited to this transitional season of hot weather and the old, worn ambience of the venue.  We sweat under the masks just as you would in a South American whore house.

One word of warning – wear safe, comfortable shoes.  There are three levels and it is all stairs. You will go up and down the staircases a number of times, so ditch the heels and go for trainers instead.  Also, if you have contact lenses wear them instead of your glasses because the masques can be tricky otherwise.

Bordello will be one of the most intriguing nights of theatre you experience this year with an innovation and energy that is unique and exciting. Hurry up and book though. It is only on until Saturday and the house is strictly limited to 20 people per show.

4 Stars

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