Fire Exit returns to the Tron Theatre with new play The Last Bordello, a dramatic piece that feels like a collision of Rocky Horror and Twin Peaks. It also shares much in common with predecessor Coriolanus Vanishes: themes of sexuality, aggression and repression as well as stunning lighting and set design. Bordello is more than just an amalgamation of any of these texts though. It is a fascinating surrealist ensemble piece in its own right presenting the audience with six main characters – and several other personas – each fulfilling a specific role. Most central is Mitri, a seemingly naïve, even vulnerable, nineteen year-old man intent on losing his virginity at the titular brothel in an attempt to prove his masculinity to his brother.
Almost instantly after arriving, Mitri falls into a rabbit hole, pulling the audience with him as we delve between multiple frames of narrative. The prostitutes at the bordello take it in turn to perform stories, each inspired by the life and work of French writer and activist Jean Genet and ultimately Mitri is lured, then forced into joining in himself. In addition to the layers of story piling up, the atmosphere also intensifies as we move from playful and cheeky frivolity to the developing sense that something is awry. Reaching the climax, the mood becomes entirely sinister and threatening.
The Last Bordello is a challenging play. Not only are its central concepts of sex, desire and death weighty – even convoluted at times – but the quick-paced dialogue alone can be difficult to penetrate. Focus is required to unravel the multiple strings being knotted in front of us and this can occasionally feel frustrating. The payoff is worth it though. In the play’s final moments, writer David Leddy pares things back, cracks the stiff atmosphere into pieces and suddenly illuminates “truths” for us, releasing tension and confusion. That’s not to say the play leaves everything laid out in black and white. Audience members will have plenty of grey areas to discuss and consider, no doubt with several interpretations of “what was really happening”.
Like a Christopher Nolan film, Bordello feels like it warrants repeat viewings. It is only in retrospect that several key moments and plot points seem to make sense. For some this may be frustrating, but it certainly highlights the complexity and depth of Leddy’s writing. And despite teetering on the edge of frustration at times, sticking with the play until its ambiguous denouement is worth the head-scratching.