BWW Reviews: FOREPLAY, The King's Head Theatre, May 2 2014
The superstar male professor is often the object of bright young things' desires - at least that's what's put about by plenty of male professors - so it's no surprise that Theodor Adorno, as superstar and alpha male as professors get, catches the eye of a mysterious young Ph.D. student. Like him, her hero is the long dead German theorist, Walter Benjamin, but unlike him, she has not set so much as a toe on the ladder to academic success. She asks Adorno for a leg-up, only to find that he is only interested in a legover, keen to add another notch to his much carved bedpost and a cruel bruise to her back.
Years later, the mysterious student hears of the legend of Benjamin's "lost briefcase", supposedly being carried over the Pyrenees when German took his life. She sees her chance to prick the curiosity of Adorno, get the big name prof's endorsement of her book and exact some measure of revenge.
It's not a bad set-up for a mystery thriller - and it's always amusing to watch articulate egomaniacs jousting - but Foreplay (at the King's Head Theatre until 31 May) doesn't really work. The script (by veteran writer Carl Djerassi) veers uneasily between long passages of exposition, reflections on the nature of physical and psychological infidelity and, bizarrely, episodes of farce. And, though I've spent enough time with academics to know that they speak in a language all of their own, nobody speaks quite like these characters! It's also a little disconcerting to learn (in a passage out loud) that Benjamin had a sideline knocking out erotic prose that sits, or rather throbs, somewhere in the gaping space between Pauline Réage and EL James.
There's plenty of classy performers onstage. Andrew P Stephen impresses as the pompous monster Adorno - at least until he is called upon to chase his tormentor round the dining table - and Jilly Bond quietly seethes and scowls as his much put upon wife, Gretel. If Judi Scott's Hannah Arendt too often topples into caricature an inexplicable witness to the Adornos' confessions of long-held secrets, Lesley Harcourt's ice blonde Felictas is convincingly ruthless angel of vengeance, a polite blackmailer who all but pulls it off.
Though it was splendid to hear an heartfelt exclamation of the words "The Arcades Project is unreadable!" (something I've thought for years), much of the play is frustrating, the script trapping its actors with clunky dialogue and a plot with too much discourse about intercourse and not enough drama about the trauma. Shrunk down and focused, it would make a splendid highbrow radio play, but it sprawls too much to realise its potential on stage.
Photo - Andreas Grieger