An enticing, exotic new theatrical concept has hit Melbourne with force … and the only shame is that you have very little time to see it before it will disappear.
Called Bordello, it is a journey through a house of ill repute as we, the audience, are voyeurs to the fragile foundations that are the relationships between the prostitutes and the clients. At our own pace, we are encouraged to wander through a handful of rooms over three storeys that make up The Owl and Cat Theatre and unravel the mystery of what is taking place. Seven actors – three men and four women – fill specific roles created for them by the co-owners of the theatre, Thomas Ian Doyle and Gabrielle Savrone, writers and directors in their own right.
It took Doyle and Savrone a month to crystallise their ideas so they were fully formed for public consumption. Within the context of their parts, the actors are encouraged to improvise. While we can stroll from room to room as is our want, taking in what is happening from close quarters, interacting with the actors is forbidden.
As the show starts, a naked young man is showering, while another is playing the piano, atop which a woman is perched. On the first floor, another man, a gambler, ring in hand, is nervously pacing as he prepares to ask one of the ladies of the night to marry him. Next thing you know the naked young man we saw downstairs is choosing one of the ladies with whom to have sex and the pair moves to the second storey bedroom. In that room are a bed, a framed photo of Marilyn Monroe and a small piece of paper inserted into a typewriter on which appear these words: “To my dearest Trish, I fear I can no longer live without you.” The female – cherubic in appearance – disrobes and in no time they are into it.
The co-owner of the brothel, Yvonne, is having real difficulties with a bloke who owns the other portion, her soon to be ex-husband, and wants to get him out of the place but doesn’t know how. The naked man who has just had sex – a regular and valued client – promises to help out. Before this ends, one of the “workers” will turn up dead and that isn’t Yvonne.
Trying to follow the threads is part of the challenge, but also a large slice of the fun. The actors should be encouraged to pare back their performances to engender greater realism and the plentiful use of herbal cigarettes was a little overwhelming, but the concept is superb. I can just imagine how much of a treat it would be for patrons to see a couple of different examples each year.
Obviously sex sells, so I couldn’t think of a better starting point than Bordello, but the notion lends itself to many other interpretations (perhaps a psychiatric institution or Mardi Gras setting etc.) that could also entice an audience.
I can best describe Bordello as an immersive Escape Room experience complete not only with props and clues, but with actors and music (composed by Matt Brown) to add to the surprises. Further shake things up by allowing far greater flexibility, enabling the narrative to flow simultaneously over an entire house and, hopefully, you get the picture. Each person attending is given a black Masquerade Ball-like mask to wear (and keep) to heighten his or her experience – a delightful touch. Hats off to Doyle and Savrone for pushing the bar and creating something that is unique and desperately exciting.
Bordello is playing at the The Owl and Cat Theatre in Richmond until 17th October. Only 20 people are allowed in at any one time and tickets for the hour-long show can be purchased at www.owlandcat.com.au for $39 or $32 concession. Rating: 8 out of 10
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television