Amatory Asylum, The Wellington Club

by Archie Whyld

Founder and director of House of Kittens, Sophie Cohen, has created a show which promises an erotic exploration into the world of unusual sexual obsessions such as objectophilia (sexual attraction to inanimate objects) or dendrophilia (love of trees – taking tree hugging to whole new level).

Billed as an immersive and bold form of storytelling, I was thinking this might be an edgy Punchdrunk style of theatre with an Eyes Wide Shut twist. But, no. Immersive it certainly wasn’t. The audience, in the sumptuous decadence of – private members’ only – The Wellington Club, is tightly packed into a basement bar which, to be fair, facilitates an ‘intimate atmosphere’.

Also, there is no discernible narrative to follow or characters to invest in. It is more a series of well-choreographed and beautifully costumed burlesque vignettes with a medical fetish theme. Nor are there slick transitions between the vignettes to give the evening a sense of momentum and energy, more just sitting around for a few minutes contemplating how it is legal to charge £8.44 for a bottle of beer. That’s right, £8.44. This gives the evening a clunky, disjointed, and very expensive feel.

What is particularly disappointing is the lack of diversity in terms of sexuality and gender identity. It is nothing more than a nicely-packaged, shiny, sanitised, heterosexual idea of what is risqué. Where is the promised ‘celebration of female empowerment and sexuality, created by ladies of all genders, performed for everyone’? I suppose the compere character does sport a pencilled-on moustache.

There is a cinema screen onto which is projected definitions of the various sexual obsessions and mini-films of voluptuous lips and at least one scene fetishising military uniforms that might have been worn in Germany in the 1930s, which – I’m not going to lie – I found challenging, is actually a great touch. The screen suddenly becomes transparent to reveal a room for performance, making us feel like voyeurs. The choice of music is also excellent, Kraftewerk and Giorgio Moroder amongst other such cool and moody sounds match perfectly the whole mise-en-scène of retro medical burlesque.

If it’s a fun, sexy-in-a-safe-way, beautiful burlesque with cool music night you’re after then this will tick the boxes. But if it’s a challenging, daring and exciting piece of theatre you’re in the mood for, then you’d be better off going to Berlin, where I have seen shows that really do what this show pretends to do. And given the price of drinks at The Wellington Club, such an excursion might even be cheaper.

Amatory Asylum runs through 15 November in London.

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