Desiree loves Marie, who used to love Petrell, who now loves Irene but is trying to seduce Lucy the maid. Meanwhile, the malevolent Freder, sometime lover of Desiree, is also trying to corrupt Lucy whilst persuading Marie to marry him. Or something like that, as to be honest the love lives of this group of angst-ridden medical students in 1923 Vienna became somewhat bewildering after a while.
Desiree (Lydia Wilson) is impulsive, a slave to her passions, wanting it all – to sleep with Marie, or to try being a prostitute like Lucy, or to indulge herself in the ultimate act of will. Meanwhile Freder (Geoffrey Streatfield) is persuading Lucy first to steal, and ultimately to go on the game, simply because he can. There is no motive, other than to control. “Bourgoise existence or suicide – there is no other choice” intones Alt (Jonah Russell), the intellectual.
Katie Mitchell directs, overlaying the action with menace-laden electronic sounds and flashy scene-changes. But she never manages to fully engage with the nihilism at heart of the play. The characters are not so empty that they become pure ciphers, but neither do they engage so that you care about their fate. Freder is disturbing, but he is not Aaron the Moor or Barabbas, an embodiment of pure evil. Desiree becomes tiresome. Lucy the maid-ingenué is a cliché long predating Moll Hackabout.
Ferdinand Bruckner’s play is an attack on the spiritual vacuum of a generation who have ill-absorbed the intellectual currents of the early 20th Century. Sexuality has been liberated by Freud. Twelve-tone music plays on the gramophone. Freder is a partially-developed Dostoevskian existentialist-nihilist. But this production didn’t leave you feeling sick and empty, or angry, or provoked. It was all too slick and efficient, just too much like a comfortable bourgeois night out with some ideas thrown in, and I really can’t think of anything further from what Bruckner must have intended.