Review: As You Desire Me

Although it took a while to warm up this play might just sate your desire for intelligent theatre.

Berlin Corpus Desire Disselbeck Italy Theatre War

As You Desire Me, Dir: Hannah Disselbeck, 10th-14th November, Corpus Playroom.


In many ways I really couldn’t be arsed to go see As You Desire Me. It had all seemed so promising when I had read about it the previous day: a cabaret singer with memory loss in interwar Europe and a play with the word 'Desire' yet without the word 'Streetcar' in the title. By the time evening rolled around, however, I wanted nothing more than to hit the college bar with my two friends Doritos and ale. The play was most definitely going to be heavy and heavy was the last thing I wanted.

Thankfully I went as it was pretty darn good. The play itself was thought provoking and a testament to the well known historical commonplace that the First World War left everyone a bit fucked up. It begins in Berlin with a cabaret singer living with her sleazy landlord-come-lover in a jealous father-daughter love triangle, a situation grimmer then an evening with CICCU. When an Italian signor arrives and tells her that she is the long lost wife of his best friend things change quickly. Without giving too much away, the action moves to Italy and notions of what constitutes identity begin to unravel in the face of the traumas caused by mass warfare. The staging and costumes, although sparse, pleasingly reflected this shift in location with dark curtains and a black dress in Berlin, and white washed walls and a cream dress in Italy. Although generally accurate of 1920s Europe, for a detail fetishist like me there were a few duff notes, such as the clearly Topshop bought dresses in the final scene and the inexplicable sequins on Lena’s woollen jumper.

So the source material was good and it was generally well presented, but what of the performances? Tilly Browne’s central performance grated on me at first, as I didn’t take her bitch role in the first half seriously. As her character shifted into more of a victim in the second half, however, I was more convinced and her ruminations on whether or not she was Lucia had me enthralled. This was the case with much of the play in general, with the initial alarm bells of overacting and stilted seriousness taking a while to subside. When it settled down though it was really fantastic. Joe Hardy’s Salter was particularly enjoyable, his constant scowl a pleasure to watch. Giulia Galastro and Pierre Novellie’s relationship struck a rare note of naturalism amongst the melodrama, and I also enjoyed the sliminess of James Swanton’s lawyer. Other than that though many of the performances were unremarkable, especially Seidler’s stilted Bruno.

Despite this the brilliantly named Hannah Disselbeck should feel pleased with her production as, although going through the motions in places, it really picked up into a penetrating piece of theatre by the final scene. Overall the pervasive sense of doubt in the final scene was what stayed with me after I left the Corpus Playroom, with the only certainty left being a swift pint when I made it back to college.