Perhaps it was tempting fate, but David Leddy’s decision to call his latest work The Last Bordello now comes with a certain irony, given that it could well prove to be his final production under the “Fire Exit” banner – thanks to the company controversially losing its modest, yet vital, funding from Creative Scotland. If this proves to be the case, he can hold his head high – this is a quality, albeit puzzling, work of theatre.
This is precisely the kind of cutting edge theatre that Scotland needs.
Inspired by the life and work of Jean Genet, Leddy’s script takes no prisoners, from the start asking if “the Maestro” is wanking in the darkness of the auditorium. As the dark drapes part, a set of dusty white is revealed, a space which we soon learn is supposed to represent a 1970 Palestinian brothel on the final night before politically-motivated bulldozers move in to clean up the town. A young soldier is there “to become a man”, but is clearly out of his depth among the residents, who decide to spend this final evening reminiscing and inventing tales.
All of this is by turns amusing and disturbing; all-too-episodic, but equally revealing as the alleged brothel stereotypes are in turn shown to be inventions, performances. Mood and tone are set by Nich Smith’s forthright lighting, while Becky Minto’s set is sufficiently flexible to remain suggestive of location and time rather than especially realistic. Danny Krass’s sound design, meantime, is both atmospheric and at times startling – quite deliberately, of course. Despite the air of unreality – at one point, the young soldier asks: “Are you guys surrealists?” – Leddy is able to turn up real dramatic tension in the room.
That’s all the more impressive given how the final scenes of the play deliberately strip away layers of performance and meaning; essentially, Leddy’s pulling the rug from under us, and we’re left questioning nigh on everything we’ve seen up to that point. In some respects, this feels simply annoying, yet nor does it feel wrong. Vibrant, inventive and intelligent, this is precisely the kind of cutting edge theatre that Scotland needs. Creative Scotland take note.