Boy meets girl. Girl meets a different boy. That boy meets a different girl again, who then shags a third fellow, and so it goes.
Such is the premise of Sleeping Around, as well as the foundation of Der Reigen (a.k.a. La Ronde), a 1921 play by Arthur Schnitzler, later adapted by David Hare as The Blue Room.
Sleeping Around is a 1998 collaborative effort by Hillary Fannin, Stephen Greenhorn, Abi Morgan and gay playwright Mark Ravenhill (of Shopping And Fucking fame).
It’s Ravenhill’s presence that makes the failings of Sleeping Around that much more bitter. If one is going to take Schnitzler’s vision and truly update it, to take it further than Hare’s impressive though staid translation, then it’s fair to expect the daisy chain to be a tad bent.
There’s one glimmer of it, and it’s disturbingly conservative. Chris Sommers plays Pete, who is bisexual and has AIDS. No, not just HIV, this character even has theatrical KS lesions. He’s sad, got the lurgy having sex with men and now has a torturous relationship with fellow victim Lyndsey. It’s a union that makes Liza and David’s coupling seem well adjusted.
To be fair, the play was probably written to be performed by two actors -“ one male and one female, as with Hare’s Blue Room. This leaves little opportunity for same-sex coupling -“ but this production’s use of 12 actors makes the lack of homo even more pointed.
Yet there is one truly exciting performance to bask in: Queenslander Libby Richmond as the very nervous Lyndsey. She twitches, she cries, she even has an orgasm, all with an almost embarrassing emotional candour. Even if this is the actor’s only schtick, it’s a good one.
Sleeping Around is diverting enough, but once again, it’s an orgy to which we’ve not been invited.
Sleeping Around is showing at the Downstairs Theatre, 25 Belvoir Street, until 28 November. Phone 9699 3444.