Camden Fringe 2012
The Balcony by Jen Genet is a highly sexual, highly charged play that when done right can be titillating, exhilarating theatre that packs a real punch. It is written with precision and a sense of the unsafe. Theatre that challenges and takes its audience right to the edge of where they may or may not want to go is both exciting and full of flavour.
The King’s Players are a solid bunch of performers, but what this performance has in spades is safety what it needs is to lose the life raft and drift with purpose. When a piece of theatre is so overtly sexual like The Balcony taking risks is necessary. The Balcony is set in a brothel in an unnamed city and the date is unknown which makes it perfect for adaptation and change. The King’s Players have updated this to take place 20 years in the future. Following the 2011 riots London went into full blown war and the brothel seems like an escape for those men and women unable to bear what is happening outside the four walls. It is a protected sanctuary thanks to the Chief of Police (Liam Anderson).
This company appears to be attempting a contemporary look at interweaving the concept of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon which Foucault compared with society with The Balcony which is a strong idea. However this modern update on a budget doesn’t really do a lot for the piece because if you commit to a contemporary or future setting it needs to really deliver. A few carefully placed old school televisions and some square mirrored boxes and a camera in the corner do not catapult you into that surveillance world especially if we are imagining we are in 2020 when televisions are far advanced. Naturally war lends itself to returning to the basics but with the onset of the digital age this does not feel believable. Theatricality is needed to take us to this future zone and the plastic sheeting on the floor isn’t helping take us there. As an audience member it is a constant fight between the action on the stage and attempting to watch the tiny blurry television for any movement. The onstage action wins every time.
The madame of the brothel is just not sharp enough and why on earth would she be barefoot. Where are her spiked heels? The costumes are very grey and whilst this is a deliberate attempt at helping the audience delineate between the brothel staff and customers it is not required. Unfortunately all three men representing the custom in the form of The Bishop, The General and The Judge play their characters on the surface with a lot of gesture and movement and a lack of subtlety of expression which makes the power game being played more exciting to watch. Olivia Steatham who plays Regina, the star prostitute is the stand out performance. She is convincing and her performance is layered with complexity, light and shade.
As a whole the cast have given an enthusiastic and solid reworking of this classic, but it lacks the subtleties and edginess it needs to be a fully fledged success.