File this one under “has to be done”. In a real-life erotic theatre in the heart of the red light district – which offers a “non-stop live sex show” for its evening clientele – this lunchtime vaudeville performance promises both “humorous harlots” and “biblical horror”, a combination guaranteed to fluster a buttoned-up British guy like me. In the event though, if you don’t think too hard about where you are, the experience is a relatively tasteful one. The cringe factor is certainly present, but it’s never allowed to overwhelm what’s a skilful and creative show.
The cast of characters includes a comedy sinister baddie in the style of a Victorian ringmaster, an apparent madam in a feather boa, and – for no very obvious reason – a horse. Of these, the boa-clad woman was my favourite: she cleverly combines a puppet torso with the real actor’s hands and legs, and shows a carefree delight as she envelops an unsuspecting audience member with her voluminous skirts.
Other scenes involve a man with fake breasts and oversized wig, a dog on a stick (don’t worry, not a real one), and the inevitable innuendo involving a particularly phallic object. Up to this point, there’s not much here you couldn’t have seen in a good old British panto. But then the stage rotates, and… well. Suffice it to say that the next puppet sings, and the noise doesn’t emerge from her mouth.
As a standard-bearer for a sexually liberated society, Fabrique Erotique works rather well. I could perhaps have lived without the scene where the ringmaster drugs a woman’s drink and turns her into his sex slave – grotesque and gothic though it’s meant to be, it’s also a little too close to real-life abuses. But apart from that, this is a joyful piece, perfectly designed to make the most of the showy tricks and gimmicks offered by the space it’s performed in.
It all seems a little aimless, though, until close to the end… when there’s one last, ugly transformation, which casts everything we’ve seen in a startlingly different light. The uninhibited sexuality on display up to that point seems suddenly inhuman, perhaps a little threatening. I’d taken a friend with me to this show – for moral support, you understand – and we agreed that we weren’t quite sure what the turn-about meant, but that it was certainly interesting to speculate on.
Context is everything. If I’d seen Fabrique Erotique in a trendy theatre back in London, I’d have said it was ironic, progressive, maybe even feminist. Here – well, who knows. I admit I emerged feeling a little sordid, but I’m not sorry I ventured in.