My mother would always pretend to be nonplussed by representations of sex and violence, while being secretly offended. My own prudery takes a different form: I pretend to be gung-ho for nudity and brutality, silently insisting on a purpose to any sensational elements in theatre. So, having become bored by burlesque – as it turns out, even sexy young things stripped only engages me if it has a subtle political subtext – I turned my attention to Sodom, a post-student, late night production of Rochester’s play about buggery and moral consequences.
Rochester’s script reads like Shakespeare writing pornography: more cunts than cherubs, and the plot is a flimsy excuse for threats of male rape and women caught with the horses. There’s nothing shocking in obscenity, except when it jars with Rochester’s poetic phrasing. The cast do lend the iambics a received pronunciation, which maintains the initial surprise for a while. Unfortunately, the tricks that they employ to avoid nudity, although clever, strip the play of its serious intention to titillate.
Sadly, they never push beyond the hilarity of saying rude words in posh voices. Certainly, Rochester did not intend for Sodom to have a redeeming moral – the finale is rushed, and the descent to hell an afterthought compounded by a silly joke. Rather, the play is meant to be erotic, sharing the quality of Victorian pornography, using language to thrill. This production refuses to interpret this for a modern audience, leaving it an exercise in dramatic archaeology and never touching on the theatricality of its diverse scenes.
Master of the comic book Alan Moore recently reflected on why violence is so much more acceptable than sex as a topic for art. He promptly added his Lost Girls to the argument, enjoying the irony of throwing a work of pornography into his serious bibliography of mature graphic novels. As with burlesque, Sodom is a reminder of how sexuality is a potent ingredient when flung onto the stage: directed with an eye to the internet era, it could be a challenging hour of amoral entertainment. Yet, unlike Lost Girls, this version refuses to abandon a certain restraint. In answer to Moore’s question, it acknowledges that some things cannot be performed without authenticity: a naked performer is really naked. It’s not fair to expect a fringe show to do justice to Sodom’s sensual potential.