THEATRE REVIEW | Foreplay, King’s Head Theatre, London

★★★ | Foreplay, King’s Head Theatre, London

Some of the greatest minds of the post-War central European generation, Theodore Adorno and his wife Gretel, Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin became caught up in a heady mix of sexual and intellectual intrigue, infidelity, rivalry and mutual obsession. Years later, with Benjamin dead and Adorno established as one of the leading thinkers of his time Theodore, Gretel and Hannah are invited to a meal by a mysterious young woman. When their host reveals that she has access to documents that could change their lives for ever, all three are forced to face the lies, jealousies and sexual proclivities that they have hidden for decades, as their loyalty to each other is tested to the utmost.

A psycho-sexual thriller of betrayal and revenge, Foreplay takes us into the lives of some of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century, exposing the chasm between the public and private, what is erotic and what is pornographic, and the uneasy relationship between genius and hypocrisy in us all.

This is the world premiere of Carl Djerassi’s new play at the King’s Head Theatre and the staging of the production, the skill of the actors and the intimacy of the space would certainly do justice to the piece. The claustrophobic nature of the play is conveyed to perfection and there isn’t a weak link in the cast with some very strong performances, my favourite being Judi Scott as the fearsome Hannah Arendt.

The problem for me was the play itself. In spite of a fascinating premise, some well placed humour and pacey dialogue, it felt less like a meditation on intellectual versus physical foreplay and infidelity but more like a virtual reality recreation of a particularly long and dry menopause. I suspect that had I known more about German 20th Century philosophers, political theorists and sociologists then I might have found the play more compelling. As it was, I found it mostly quite dull in content and even the intriguing human elements failed to hold my interest fully for long as the intellectual debates and parrying quickly took the sparkle away from any of the merits of the excellent production.

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In spite of this, it’s well worth seeing just for the clever set and the highly accomplished acting. The brief moments of humour are well placed and timed to perfection.

The play runs until the 31st of May

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About the author: Chris Bridges
Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.