David Leddy’s The Last Bordello plays fast and loose with the truth, reality, and his audience. Against the backdrop of 1970s Gaza, the inexperienced Mitri seeks to “make himself a man” to earn his brother’s approval. Stumbling into a brothel the night before a government- enforced closure, he finds himself in a world of debauchery and desire. Every lecherous whim indulged in the closing down ‘sale’.
As the mysteries pile up, each member of the brothel spins a tale for the entertainment of the others. Amid the flurry of activity, the perverse, the comical, and the tragic interact beautifully. Such spirits are consistently shadowed by the looming absence of the Maestro, Jean Genet. Leddy creates a marvellously unhinged play, saturated in layers of theatricality, finally finding its end in a disturbed and foul reality.
Although the story always feels ill-at-ease, often actively unsettling, the cast fuse together effectively, propelling this seductive tale through its twists and turns. David Rankine’s Mitri expertly navigates the nuances between depravity and naivety, Vari Sylvester shines as Irma – a controlling, but comically inclined curmudgeon and expert storyteller. Matthew McVarish as ‘the Sailor’ masterfully executed his character’s transformation with impressive dexterity, his standoffish nature beautifully mirrored by Irene Allen’s manic Madame. Apphia Campbell’s portrayal of the moral compass ‘Virtue’ carries an infallible balance of comedic timing and tenderness, allowing the polarities in the performance and the slipperiness of reality in the play to shine through.
The set is impressive; confidently handling scene changes, utilising the adept placement of chairs around the stage to alter the focal points of performance. The staging of the play is not gratuitous, but nevertheless well executed. The atmosphere is instead set by the skilful use of sound and lighting. The noise of shells from outside undercutting the flamboyance and frivolity, the blue, purple, and white light illuminating the characters interrupted only by dance parties and timely flashes of red. However, the persistent inclusion of a repetitive and eerie incantation felt more like a throw-away trope, and did not produce the intended unsettling reaction.
The use of space was remarkable and undoubtedly successful. Eventually climbing up into the audience, the cast navigates the reasonably narrow stage adeptly, allowing cohesion of the characters and plot. A dramatic climax saw the actors laying bare their performance personas, shedding their clothes and skins onto the stage. The set itself beautifully mirrors the action. As the play progresses and its convoluted plot unfolds, the stage becomes increasingly crowded with extra props and discarded costumes.
The Last Bordello is not an enjoyable play, but it is certainly a haunting one. It is an incredible tour de force of theatre, engaging and riveting throughout. Every confusing twist is a beguiling and effective turn of the screw.
The Last Bordello
Runs until 24th February
Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan