The Theatreguide.London Review
The Pit Spring 2001
Moira Buffini's new play for the RSC is a serio-comic look at sex and love through the ages, and if that makes it sound like a "Carry On"-style romp, it's misleading.
There's very little play in this very little play, with no clear focus and little to say about its subject.
The play covers almost 2,000 years and, as a gimmick, is set in the same geographical spot, someplace in Britain (probably London) that is in turn a Roman outpost, a medieval abbey, a stately home, a Victorian slum and a modern office block.
Ten scenes depict couplings of various sorts - sexual and romantic, willing and forced, hetero- and homosexual, achieved and frustrated, romantic and commercial.
We start with a British whore so ignorant she doesn't know what money is ("I usually get a chicken"), who still manages to con a Roman soldier; and we end with a lesbian pair running a dating service, who let their own romantic problems interfere with their business.
In between are some medieval rapists, a lesbian nun, a 19th century repressed homosexual, some 1960s would-be swingers, and the like.
Some of the scenes are little more than blackout sketches, like the19th century governess reciting gothic porn while humping her employer, or the Elizabethan playwright upset when his actors get too much into the spirit of the love scene he's written.
Some reach for easy pathos, like the Victorian homosexual and the 1960s girl chickening out at the orgy.
Only one or two scenes achieve the complex emotions Buffini is reaching for. An 18th century spinster pays a working man to strip for her, repressing her sexual hungers beneath bluestocking scientific detachment.
And an emotionally damaged couple triumph over the tawdriness of the dating service to make a touching connection.
But what does it add up to? Not much. Some (but not all) of the scenes suggest a tension between idealistic impulses (religious, philosophical, romantic) and carnal urges.
But that's not a particularly original insight and, until she comes down more-or-less in favour of romance in the last seconds, Buffini never seems to have an opinion or even a point-of-view on the matter.
Under Anthony Clark's direction the cast of six, each playing at least five roles, take turns giving the play what fleeting reality it has by investing their barely-sketched characters with flashes of emotional truth: Simon Coates, Ian Dunn, Niamh Linehan, Alison Newman, Neil Warhurst, Jody Watson.
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