‘Screw Maximilian!’ Michael York exclaims, playing the novelist Christopher Isherwood in the 1972 film adaptation of the musical ‘Cabaret’. ‘I do’ Liza Minnelli (as Sally Bowles) retorts with honesty and venom. ‘So do I’ is Isherwood’s brutal and brilliant reply. ‘Very Pleasant Sensations’ is a play secured around these terribly witty homoerotic exchanges. Written by new playwright Paul J. Guest and directed by Dan Philips, it sets itself in a London bathhouse where baths are the last thing on anyone’s mind. A den of debauchery and an escape from the charade of married life for homosexual men is what this esteemed venue has become, somewhere where there are no pretenses or deceptions.
It is in this steamy place that Isherwood (Benjamin Vivian-Jones) attempts to teach the young and innocent Benjamin Britten (Christopher York) how to flirt with, approach and seduce other men. Initially it’s like watching Dorian Gray without the unhealthy obsession with portraiture. Isherwood takes the place of the well-meaning Basil Hallward, Britten as the beautiful Gray and Auden (Ben Woods) enters later as the destructively influential Henry Wooten as all three embark on a journey of hedonism. With the exception of Woods’ over rolling of the letter ‘r’ and occasional struggle to retain the RP accent, the acting is exceptional. Vivian-Jones captures the complicated essence of the lovelorn Isherwood, damaged by his experiences in Berlin and eventually regretful that he has led the previously happy Britten to the same despair and disillusionment. York also injects a delightful frivolity into the mix using a mixture of coy but enthusiastic glances and sharp, awkward movements to convince the audience of his curious ignorance. However, the play really takes off with the entrance of Woods who, tall and with a magnificent presence, captivates the audience. Auden’s arrogance, unhappiness and overall unrelenting intelligence is displayed in Woods’ excellent portrayal, who is especially electrifying in his rendition of ‘Underneath an Abject Willow’. All three actors join in the middle to participate in a short but beautiful song composed by Gary Albert Hughes.
Whilst the acting is terrific, the script is often a little too indulgent and, given the fascinating past behind all of the characters, there should be more room for reminiscence. Too often does it seem to be struggling for dialogue and resorts to ‘Look at that chap over there, isn’t he handsome’. ‘Very Pleasant Sensations’ is still an excellent debut for playwright Guest and Philips has shown his knack for delivering thoughtful and interesting drama with a few unexpected quirks.
Have a look at the rest of the shows in Mountview Postgraduate Director’s season here: www.mountview.org.uk/shows/shows/postgraduate-directors.html or have a look a the rest of our reviews.