The story goes something like this: Retired porn star Madame Lula initiates the innocent Eugenie into an all-you-can-eat buffet of sexual dishes, assisted by her cruel and narcissistic friend Dolmance and Giovanni, her brother and lover. Eugenie is eventually so liberated by the experience she coordinates the gang rape and murder of her prudish mother.

Under Milkwood it ain’t. In London it was almost banned when the vice squad was called in to determine whether it was obscene. They found no evidence of criminal offence and the show went on, despite pornographic video footage of not just penetrative sex but bestiality and coprophilia (that’s the love of shit, in case you’re interested). In Melbourne, the film footage was pixelated, but the stage show still featured plenty of nudity, simulated sex and nude audience participation.

The production is, however, intended as an intellectual exploration of pornography, sexual violence and sexual liberation, with the playtext based on the 1795 novel Philosophy In The Boudoir by the Marquis De Sade. For this reason co-artistic director of company La Fura Dels Baus, Miki Espuma, has found himself disappointed with the quality (but not quantity, it seems) of the show’s audiences.

It’s a show for clever people, Espuma said, via a translator at the Star’s office on a sweltering afternoon. Espuma has been with the company for 20 years, including four tours to Australia. A presence at the opening night in Melbourne last month, Espuma said there were a lot of people dressed in bondage, who he suggested were perhaps not the best audience to understand the play. Members of Sydney’s leather community may disagree, especially women who love S/M, because they might have an appreciation of an author many regard as violently misogynistic.

Espuma disagrees about de Sade’s bad reputation.

The Marquis de Sade has been difficult to translate, he said. He’s a character that has been really badly interpreted over the years, by writers such as Voltaire and Rousseau. They’ve shown that he was a killer, but he was also a great writer.

Ironically, Espuma’s attempts to explain how de Sade has been mistranslated then become incomprehensible thanks to some bewildering translation.

The company’s extensive literature on the production fills in some of the blanks, courtesy of their impressive website (www.lafura.com/xxx/). The decision to produce a work based on de Sade’s writings is apparently because he immerses us in the ghosts of our conscience and in the sexual fantasies which dwell deep inside each one of us. Long before the birth of psychoanalysis, the works of de Sade bring to light the darkest tendencies of the human subconscious and frees them of all moral ties, in order to let them flow with extreme intensity.

So speaketh the bodiless voice of La Fura Dels Baus, but this punter is less than convinced. Espuma points to the number of women involved in the process. Most of the play has been written by a woman, a Spanish lady, he said. She is very prestigious.

It is possible of course to be too serious about XXX, despite its troubling content, because the show is also filled with plenty of post-modern irony (if we’re to believe the London critics). Apparently it’s even humorous. De Sade -“ funny? Through the haze of the hot afternoon and the noise of translation, the answer is a little blurry.
It is a short play, which is divided into seven parts, Espuma said. Which grew, each stage, in intensity from the beginning of a kiss and a touch, then you end up with crime. And in between you have the sexual fantasies or sexual options, such as homosexuality or -¦ toys or anything you can think about. But at the same time, we use these same fantasies to talk about politics, religion, social relations and a social critique of anarchism. It gives a lot of room for irony.

Whether obscene, sexist, violent or just plain gross, it is hoped and expected that XXX will be spectacular and interesting theatre. When the company performed their version of Macbeth for the Sydney Festival, Lady Macbeth performed her soliloquy of guilt in a blood-filled bath. If the company can bring something new to an exhausted dugong like Macbeth, then hopefully they can find something new to say theatrically about a vile old tart like de Sade. Fingers (and legs) crossed.

La Fura Dels Baus’ XXX is showing at the Enmore Theatre from 25 February until 2 March. Phone
9550 3666 for bookings.

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