Dir. David Leddy, Tron Theatre, 10-17 February
The newest Fire Exit production – The Last Bordello – is an experience. It works with multiple narrative frames, discusses gender, power, sex and sexual abuse in a blunt and unreserved manner. It also, I would dare say, expects in-depth knowledge of the life and work of Jean Genet. This play does not give you an easy way out, or provide you with a relaxing night. Instead its violent images and posed questions keep you up into the wee hours of the night, when you, although disgusted, still hope for a chance to see it again and grasp some more of the narrative levels.
Jean Genet was a French playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and political activist. He was the son of a prostitute, spent his childhood in a foster home and then his adolescence in the reformatory school Mettray. In his 30s he was continuously imprisoned for theft and prostitution. It was in prison that he started writing. Genet’s talent took the world by surprise, and many artists (including Sartre) campaigned for Genet to be ‘pardoned in advance’ for future crimes to avoid his life imprisonment due to frequent stealing. All of this fashions a frame to the story of a young terrorist who comes to a bordello to lose his virginity, and ends up caught in the stories told and re-enacted by the people he encounters there about their experiences. The stories and Genet’s biography become very closely intertwined, with Genet being directly mentioned as someone the Bordello workers knew a long time ago. And the more the performance progresses, the less sure you are about what is going on.
Even the audience that does not understand all of the narratives in The Last Bordello can still take something away from this production. For me, the most important role of theatre is to put the audience in thought-provoking, even if uncomfortable, situations. Whether this performance makes you question power, violence, sex, or leads you to enquire about Jean Genet and the Theatre of the Absurd, it is a worthwhile watch. Best if you get to see it twice.
[Žad P. Novak]