Gaudeamus

Peter Morris
Arcola Theatre
(2006)

Updated versions of Aristophanes have suddenly become flavour of the month at the Arcola. Following the recent successful reworking of Lysistrata at the end of last year, Peter Morris has been inspired by the Ecclesiazusae to write a comedy about sex.

His chosen method, a series of monologues, has worked well for him in the past. It has also been favoured by other playwrights, especially Irish exponents such as Brian Friel and Conor McPherson. The closest analogy in this case though is Neil Labute's Bash, also set in America amongst young types for whom sex and relationships were important.

The main problem here is that this play just begs for human contact and Morris should really have looked to move away from the monologue form into something a little more ambitious.

The play opens with Lynette Baker (Chipo Chung) delivering a lengthy lecture to a student body at an Experimental College in Vermont, the whitest State in the Union. She talks about the need to overcome prejudice of every type and in particular miscegenation.

During her speech, Lynette begins to talk about her own life and in particular, her room-mate's ex-boyfriend Brad. He has been practising what Lynette identifies as dating racism - exclusively going for Barbie-doll type blondes, wittily christened lacrosse-titutes.

We then meet Brad himself, played by Footballer's Wives' heartthrob Travis Oliver. He is a hyped-up frat boy who bounces around showing all of the indications of a large and very recently ingested dose of Coke. He is determinedly hip and happy to boast about his sexual prowess as well as the delight of a college that allows him more time for dating than studying.

The third performer is Kika Markham playing a virginal 68 year-old classics professor, Helen West. While she has never had sex, she is an expert in her field and strangely, seems up for almost anything.

The "almost anything" is Lynette's proposal to the college council that a motion be approved requiring that anybody offered sex must accept. This is approved with some acclaim, especially by Brad who can hardly believe his luck.

Through the remainder of a rather long two hours plus interval, Morris explores all of the different possibilities that this experiment throws up. Brad not only has sex with the attractive, the black and the ugly but also, to his surprise and possibly delight, with gay Eddie who learns a thing or two himself.

Lynette is too busy with paperwork to get her end away as often as she'd like but, at least briefly, the older Helen enters heaven.

Remarkably quickly, each of them becomes bored with their new found freedom and the experiment ends with an orgy that challenges society's willingness to accept total sexual freedom.

The moral of this tale must be that fidelity has far more to offer than this group had originally imagined.

Peter Morris is deeply in love with the spoken word and clearly had a desire to deliver as many of his jokes as an audience could stand. Many are extremely funny although he does also have a passion for the corny. At times though, these swiftly delivered monologues feel more like a series of stand-up comic sets than a play.

The narrative flow eventually suffers and the subject matter would have been far better served by a comedy that was considerably shorter and sharper.

Having said that, at its best, Gaudeamus is very entertaining and young director Michael Longhurst can be proud of the high quality performances that he has drawn from all three of his actors.

Philip Fisher