As plays go, Jean Genet’s The Balcony is brimming with metacritical ideas – a fusion of Brechtian intent with a Gallic sensibility. Directed by Velenzia Spearpoint, The Balcony is set in an unspecified town during a revolution, where most of the action takes place in a ‘brothel’. Except that this establishment doesn’t so much cater for sexual services as roleplay, fufilling fantasies of power in the House of Illusions.
Run by Irma (Sassy Clyde), the House of Illusions has a loyal cliente who gladly make the hazardous journey through the fighting on the city streets – their only concern being not being seen leaving! Using an all-female cast, one of the things that’s very evident is how the ‘fantasies’ are very much associated with traditional male roles and their use of authority. The play leaves it open to interpretation whether most of the men that visit Irma’s establishment really are men in positions of power or whether they are ordinary men who ‘get turned on’ by playing such roles. All but one – but I’ll come back to that later.
Each of the ‘vocations’ that the clientele choose to be say something about the deeper desires of human nature. The ‘General’ as played by Joan Potter is more interested in experiencing ‘posthumous glory’, rather than the dangers of the battlefield. Meanwhile, Ashley Rose Kaplan’s ‘Judge’ likes the sense of ‘power’ she has over someone who is ‘guilty’. Similarly, Alice Bounsall’s ‘Bishop’ chooses to come to Irma’s establishment, precisely because the women working will be ‘sinful’, with many ‘selacious’ deeds to confess.
Through the character of Carmen (Suzy Gill) Irma’s ‘accountant’ and former escort, we have a better understanding of how one of the women feels working there and something of Irma herself. As Arthur, the conduit between the clients and the House’s personnel, Victoria Porter has some of the best moments – unconstrained by protocol and full of energy.
It is, however, through Pippa Winslow as the Chief of Police that we get to the heart of the play. Her ‘kick’ isn’t to be someone else, but hoping to be a person of importance in the eyes of others. Sadly for her nobody does – until the arrival of Roger (Helen Jessica Liggat), but not for the reasons one would expect…
The Balcony has a lot to say about power relations in their social context and the way we identify (or not) with figures of authority. Tonally, the play reminded me of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, juxtapositioning moments of levity with a surreal situation to make valid points about the pursuit of power and recogniton – often at the detriment of others. Because of the satirical nature The Balcony, the message isn’t didactic but is understood intuitively.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Balcony runs at the Bread and Roses Theatre until 2nd December.
Odera Iwugo as PHOTOGRAPHER/THIEF
Victoria Porter as ARTHUR/ENVOY
Naina Kohli as CHANTAL
Faye Bennett as WOMAN/GIRL
Helen Jessica Liggat as ROGER
Suzy Gill as CARMEN
Paula Benson as ENSEMBLE
Sassy Clyde as IRMA
Joan Potter as GENERAL
Ashley Rose Kaplan as JUDGE
Alice Bounsall as BISHOP
Pippa Winslow as CHIEF OF POLICE