Feature in Issue 15-2 | Summer 2003

La Fura dels Baus caused a storm when they brought XXX to the Riverside Studios. Pilar Orti gives us some interpretations…

‘Why choose a work as radical as that of De Sade to represent sexuality in the 21st Century? Because Sade immerses us in the ghosts of our conscience and in the sexual fantasies which dwell deep inside each one of us… The works of Sade bring to light the darkest tendencies of the human subconscious and free them of all moral ties, in order to let them flow with extreme intensity.’ (La Fura dels Baus on XXX)

La Fura dels Baus is a well established, government-funded Catalan company, led by artistic directors Miki Espuma, Pep Gatell, Jurgen Muller, Pera Tantina and the directors of XXX, Alex Olle and Carlos Padrissa. La Fura began performing street theatre in 1979, including in their work movement, music, natural and industrial materials, and the direct involvement of the spectator. Over the last ten years, the company has also explored text-based theatre, digital theatre, internet-based projects, corporate events and opera, and performed the opening ceremony of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Their first film, Faust 5.0 has just been released in the UK.

XXX is the third foray of the company into text theatre and has been born out of the intention to examine, investigate and subvert the ‘erotic genre used in theatre’.

Together with Montse Gili, I worked on La Fura dels Baus’s XXX as interpreter between the Spanish-speaking performers and London spectators during the two moments of audience participation. This gave me the opportunity to watch the audience’s reactions and comments night after night. As a response to some of these, here are my thoughts…

XXX opened at the Riverside Studios in London at the end of April this year and immediately made it onto the front page of the tabloids – it was about time that theatre made it onto the news not because a film star was appearing in a show, but because of the show itself. The London press greeted La Fura with misleading headlines such as ‘Live sex on stage’ (Evening Standard), leaving company members gob-smacked at the reaction of the press of such a cosmopolitan capital. It has taken an X-rated show by a Catalan company to put theatre in Britain once more at the centre of a moral debate.

‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ provides a space for those great perversions which might appear in our dreams but which are never realised, to live in. They are part of humankind, and it’s healthy to express them through theatre, as otherwise they might come out in some other way, and lead to murder which is far worse than going to the theatre. Man has to defend art as a space of absolute freedom, as long as it remains fictional. Times of repression often lead to great abuse. (Carlos Padrissa, interview with ABC newspaper, Spain, 8/5/2003)

XXX presents ideas inherent to a piece of literature written in 1795, in a style fit for the 21st Century. The show is based on the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom, where a young woman Eugenia (excellently portrayed by Sonia Segura) is perverted by three libertines, who in the contemporary setting become the porn actors who lure a young aspiring actress into their world when she turns up for an audition.

There is nothing subtle about XXX – nudity becomes commonplace and the sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination as Sade’s ideas are unleashed on stage. Through using a hand-held camera and pre-recorded porn, the company want us to believe that Eugenia is being the victim of rape right in front of us in one of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen. However, instead of running away and denouncing this sex-crazed group, Eugenia returns in order to carry on with her induction into sexual liberation.

One of Sade’s ideas inherent to XXX is that we all have in us the ability to become criminals. Through the education they give Eugenia, the libertines manage to turn a sweet girl who works for animal charities into a sadistic daughter who ends up raping her mother with a strap-on in order to achieve complete liberation.

XXX is an interactive proposal that allows the image to be mutated by making it pass from virtual to real, in different stages.

I’ve never seen the audience’s perception of what is real and what is not challenged this far in a traditional theatre space. One audience member asked the actor playing Sade’s alter-ego Dolmancé (Pedro Gutiérrez) if the penetration during the gang rape scene was actually taking place there and then. Numerous audience members were also convinced that pheromones had actually been pumped into the auditorium in order to carry out an ‘experiment on the lack of inhibition’. Through the use of pre-recorded images, video cameras and of course, plants in the audience, La Fura bashed the theatre’s ‘fourth wall’ night after night, making the audience’s experience comparable to that of the spectators in live art performances or events of Invisible Theatre.

I’ve never seen the audience’s perception of what is real and what is not challenged this far in a traditional theatre space.

Humour, stemming from a vivid imagination, was an intrinsic part of XXX, offering a necessary complement to the graphic sex and violence. There were plenty of opportunities in the show for release through laughter, although much of the humour was text-based and sometimes lost in the surtitles. However, every night roars of laughter greeted moments such as the video image of Giovanni’s (Pau Gómez) penis complaining about its anonymous existence, and Madame Lula’s (Teresa Vallejo) description of her ‘globalised cunt’.

The music in XXX lifts the spirit and also provokes erections.

At times the show proved to be an orgy for the senses with strong visual images (such as: Dolmancé whipping Eugenia from his metal sex machine in the air; Eugenia completely submerged in a water tank as she entered a chat room with her alter-ego; group sex on trapeze…), enveloped by a soundtrack made up of pieces of various styles written by fifteen different composers.

Miki Espuma (music co-ordinator of the piece) is at the head of the XXX soundtrack, referred to in La Fura’s publicity as the ‘Gangbang Music Project’. This miscellaneous compilation is made up of the different artists personal view of sex. The composers include Fangoria, Big Toxic and Espuma himself, and their music ranges from classical and Gregorian through to pop and hard techno.

As to what the piece is trying to say – well, La Fura have experimented with different ways of portraying sexual fantasies on stage and transporting Sade’s ideas into the 21st Century. What’s morally wrong or right is left up to each individual to decide. Personally, I was glad La Fura dels Baus brought to London a piece of total theatre that challenged the audience’s perceptions, claiming through vaginal poetry that ‘a better world is possible’.

All quotes from the company’s publicity, unless otherwise stated. See website: www.lafura.com

Referenced Artists

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Issue 15-2
p. 22 - 23