Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Unbroken, Gate Theatre

Review: Unbroken, Gate Theatre

Written for WhatsOnStage.com, 11.02.2009

La Ronde, Arthur Schnitzler’s frank examination of cyclical promiscuity, was denigrated as mere pornography at the start of the 20th Century. Alexandra Wood’s Unbroken is the second play in the past year to take Schnitzler’s as its inspiration. Like Joe DiPetro’s Fucking Men, recently seen at The King’s Head, Unbroken borrows the structure of momentary encounters between A and B, B and C and so on until F turns out to be married to A.

However, where Schnitzler and DiPetro hang a broad array of human relationships upon the act of sex, Wood provides a collection of people too close to one another in class, culture and character. For her, sex seems something that happens, rather than the tool, even the weapon, to be used that Schnitzler’s original portrays.

Nor does director Natalie Abrahami’s decision to turn the play into dance theatre do Wood’s script any favours, deflecting attention further from motivations and situations onto the sexual act itself. As such, Unbroken seems a study more biological than anthropological, which wouldn’t be such a problem were it to interrogate the possibilities, varieties and extremities of sex.

Instead, Darren Ellis and Gemma Higginbotham repeatedly entwine their bodies with the utmost of affection and delicacy. Its all too gentle, too altruistic, too mutual. Even when rock star Johnno half-forces himself upon his ex-girlfriend Laura, she seems to succumb to the niceties of courtship after the briefest of scuffles. In fact, so sentimental is Unbroken that it would probably follow an orgasm with a single tear at the beauty of it all.

Thankfully, Tom Scutt’s ingenious design – a sewer-like concrete rectangle, shallow and wide – provides an interestingly unfeeling backdrop and, in combination with Lee Curran’s lighting, manages to make something of the bland visual content. With a hazy gauze stretched across the stage’s front, it feels a bit like a cinema screen up close or an aquarium tank containing examples of a species rather than individuals.

Ultimately, the urbanity of their design highlights the desperate need for something less wispy, less Lost In Translation. It sorely lacks the metropolitan thump of Frantic Assembly’s Peepshow and the debauched honesty of Sarah Kane.

As it is, Unbroken is more like a post-coital slump than sex itself – nothing much is said and everything’s a bit tender.

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