Above The Stag, the theatre above a gay pub that produces almost exclusively gay-related plays, has a pretty good track record where silly fun is concerned, what with its hit annual panto, and last year's Silence of the Lambs
musical. I've always found it to be on shakier ground when it attempts something a bit more serious though. It was largely curiosity that attracted me this time, as an all-gay version of La Ronde
, Fucking Men
, was a huge fringe hit a couple of years ago so was there any reason other than cashing in for producing Jack Heifner's 2004 play Seduction
, which has the same premise, and was there anything this show had up its sleeve that the last one didn't? Well, this being the Stag, one thing it adds to the mix is
although in my opinion it's only adorable ginger (all over) Stanley Eldridge who you might actually want
to see naked.
The play's billed as an erotic comedy but is nothing of the sort; it's actually a pretty dark drama with the odd comic scene. It falls under what I consider to be self-loathing gay drama - the title's pretty ironic as in the ten sexual encounters shown there's no seduction although there's some coercion and more than one rape. Most of the pairings feature at least one person who's at best unsure about going through with it, and in the rest there's always some financial or other incentive at work, not just sexual attraction. In keeping with the original's underlying theme of syphilis, this version has the odd AIDS reference thrown in as well, so in many ways it's the sort of self-flaggelating gay drama typical of a few years ago. Heifner's dialogue is clunky as well but Eldridge, Stewart Dunseith and Michael Morrison's delivery covers up a lot of this; when left to the completely wooden Simon Boughey and Royce Ullah though, the awkwardly-phrased lines crash to the floor. (Each actor plays two characters; Dunseith does the best job of differentiating between his two, and he and Eldridge have the best comic timing.)
Director Peter Bull gives the show an unnecessary interval (La Ronde
really works better played straight through and without the interval this would have been a perfectly manageable 100-odd minutes; given how often you hear the phrases "Still time to buy drinks! Don't forget to buy your drinks! BUY DRINKS!" at the Stag though I doubt it was there for artistic purposes) but at least the second half is stronger than the first, with a bit more of that elusive humour. Fiona Russell's design throws in some well-used projections and though this isn't one to rush to it's not a dead loss either. There's sometimes an awkwardly amateurish feel to productions at ATS and although it's not entirely absent here it's definitely a step in the right direction, three of the five performances transcending the material.Seduction
by Jack Heifner, based on La Ronde
by Arthur Schnitzler is booking until the 20th of February at Above The Stag Theatre.