Review: The Times | From The Well Of Loneliness



From The Well of Loneliness

REVIEW ... Théâtre d'Aujourd'hui, Montreal
by Nadine Meisner
The Times | 6th Oct 1993

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A man positions himself at a urinal, while others with expectant, prying eyes hover around him. When the attendant arrives, they half-heartedly disperse. "My motto", he had told us earlier, "is they can sit in a cubicle all day long as long as I've got other cubicles free." After all, someone might need them for orthodox reasons.

He looks after a cottage: public lavatory to some of us, house of sexual bliss to others. By choosing cottaging as the subject of his new piece, MSM, for DV8 Physical Theatre, Lloyd Newson set sensibilities aflutter and alarm bells ringing. I mean, just what is he going to show us on stage?

In the event, we should have known better. Being who he is, Newson intends to communicate, not shock. The language is frank. But the physicality is discreet, with only the briefest moments of nudity, and bare limbs and hands, seemingly separated from their owners, groping and caressing as detachedly as encounters.

MSM does not raise, though, the weary question of categories. Its world première was presented as a big event of this year's Festival International de Nouvelle Danse in Montreal, prior to its British performances; but it defies you to call it dance. Instead it is text-based theatre, with clambering about and movement images, but not a ghost of a step demanding dancers.
The cast of seven, half actors, half dancers, steer through the risky rapids of using untrained voices magnificently. I couldn't guess who were which, although I recognised Dale Tanner, a dancer.

Thane Bettany (the lavatory attendant) might come from the theatre, but is apparently a former dancer. Only David Foxxe is unequivocally an actor, with his stocky frame and rumpled face, his charismatic presence providing a certain continuity.

The text is culled from interviews with 50 homosexual and bisexual men, each performer relating several accounts. The testimonies describe motivation and experiences, and expose the wide spectrum that makes up the culture of cottaging, as variegated as the faces of a prism.

One concerns the young man who was intiated as a boy in the lavatory of a maternity ward by a father-to-be. Then there is the distraught 35-year-old legal assistant who confesses "my ultimate fantasy is being murdered". And there are all those who say "I went out of curiosity, then I became addicted."

But why does cottaging exist? Because it gives you variety; because unlike pubs it almost guarantees sex, and is cheaper; because, most importantly, it allows anonymity — although "there is always the possibility of meeting someone as nice as me".

"Cottaging", comments Foxxe, "is 90 per cent waiting". Figures stand, circulate, wash their hands, emerge from hidden flaps in the walls. Michael Howell's interactive set also revolves to reveal washbasins, cubicles and stalls. Jocelyn Pook's soundtrack combines water noises with intermittent music that acquires a quasi-religious, numinous quality at the end.

For above all, cottaging is about loneliness; and from that truth the piece extends beyond minority interest to universal relevance. The text has an educational slant, with resonances of a sociological survey of Freud's case histories. But I found it gripping, illuminating and human.


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