Reigen

BEN DALTON is left lusty by this whistle-stop tour of Tit Hall and human sexuality

Cambridge daniel eisenberg German language german play Kesia Guillery la ronde Perversion Reigen Schnitzer Sex trinity college cambridge

At the end of last night’s production of Reigen, two young men walked onto the stage and weed all over it. Closely followed by a swan. They weren’t actors. They weren’t even audience members. The swan seemed violent.

“What the cripes is going on?!” yelled one of the startled pinklers, covering his unsightlies and scarpering off into the night. Moments later, having been told to eff off by a prostitute, we were applauding heartily under Orgasm Bridge. No bowing, red curtains or nods to the orchestra pit tonight. Just the street lamp, a urine-soaked wall and that swan.

To answer the pinkler’s question, the cripes that had been going on was that we, the lusty spectators of Reigen, had just been led on a whistle-stop tour of Trinity Hall and, simultaneously, a whistle-stop tour of human sexuality. The highlights of the tour of Trinity Hall included lovely oak panelled rooms, a beautifully perfumed boudoir and the back of the bins. The highlights of the tour of human sexuality included a romp behind a tree, a morally tormented philosopher and the tightest pair of white pants since David Beckham.

Reigen, written by Arthur Schnitzler at the end of the 19th century, is a bawdy tale of desire and transgression. The play is constructed in a loop, finishing where it starts, with each scene depicting a different sexual encounter between two characters of different social standing. As one character from each scene filters into the next, erotic pleasure is seen to know no class distinction or adhere to any universal moral code. Led around Trinity Hall by a man with a lantern, Kesia Guillery and Dan Eisenberg’s production encourages its audience to cross the same tripwires of sexual prohibition, see behind closed doors, and catch absolutely everyone with their trousers down.

reigen1

Opening but a fortnight after Lars Von Trier’s smut epic Nymphomaniac, Reigen had its work cut out if it wanted to thrill desensitized audiences between the sheets. This it did effortlessly, however, delivering far more bang for each buck than Von Trier’s popcorn porn could have ever dreamed of. Reigen’s most potent weapon is its obscene intimacy, hosting a compact audience of no more than thirty.

When the characters were in bed, we were quite literally in bed with them. When the characters picked up a book, we were close enough to read the blurb. When they sprayed perfume, the mist of it would settle on your coat. In one scene, the throws of passion of the protagonists landed them on an audience member’s foot. Deathly post-orgasm silences were electrified by the sounds of audience members holding their breath, necks craning to get closer, and tummies growling out of turn. Nymphomaniac didn’t make me hungry, but Reigen did (it had cheese and grapes in it). Nymphomaniac didn’t appeal to my sense of smell, but Reigen did. Nymphomaniac didn’t have sex on my feet, but Reigen did.

Tit Hall plays its part beautifully, consistently providing more than just a passive backdrop. During an outdoor scene, a group of undergraduate revellers unwittingly became extras, whilst the heads seen passing past the windows during the interior scenes painted in the raucous of the outside, whilst adding the excitement that they might at any point look in and catch us all mid-orgy. In another moment of genius, the audience was led through the underground bins area where, amid the eerie drone of the ventilation, characters from other scenes appeared in the shadows and prostitutes scanned the cohort for clients. Watching two characters have sex on my first year lecturer’s windowsill was also particular highlight.

Walking around the world of Reigen was a bit like playing a video game in which, rather than fulfilling the task at hand – kill the alien, collect the golden coins – you pause to watch the pixelated extras spontaneously generating around you, or to explore a dark alcove for which the graphics haven’t quite been written. Reigen is often so dimly lit that you can only see the actors’ outlines in the glow of a lamplight from outside, or can just about make out the white of a corset or the crust of a chunk of brie. With the lights out, everything was uncannily real; the characters would be doing exactly what they were doing regardless of whether or not we were there to watch them.

It seems important to mention that the play is in German. The number of non-German speakers among the crowd, however, attested to just how communicative this production is even to those not versed in the Duden. Words proved to be little more than playful mitigation atop the carnality of the performances of the actors and their settings. “It’s what it looks like”, I said to my friend when he asked for a translation.

For God’s sake, go see this play now. Unless you hate walking, that is. Or are in a committed and loving relationship with one of the actors.

I’ve heard that can be uncomfortable.