Sex with a corpse? We've all been on that date, but in Merlin Theatre's Laodamia, this time it's for real. The List went to Budapest to find out

fiI‘St hand. Words: Steve Cramer

OKAY, YOU SAY, 50 THIS IS JUST ANOTHER play about a woman who does a deal with the Gods to get her dead husband’s corpse back for three hours of sink the sausage before agreeing to kill herself. You might be thinking of it as a kind of necrophiliac masterpiece, strictly for the dead horny, or perhaps the horny dead. But there’s far more to Merlin Theatre’s Laodamia and its rendering of female sexuality than that.

In fact, in order to focus the audience’s mind on the central issue of women ’3 sexual desires, there’s no live (or indeed dead) male presence onstage. This version of Mihaly Babits’s classic pastiche of Greek myth has pared its cast down to three women, as Hungarian writer and translator Peter Zollman explains: ‘What the director, Laszlé Magacs, has done is to alter the original and read against the text, but I really believe that he hasn’t altered Babits’s original intention. And, even given the nature of the play, there isn’t a single “fuck” in it.’

Magacs confirms there’s no direct or graphically realistic representation of sex. ‘At our first rehearsal, I said to the actresses that I was talking about women in love you have to find that in yourselves. What we evolved was about female sexuality, but it’s not about taking your clothes off and saying, “This is my body, I am being honest”. That is bullshit. If you’re strong enough, you don’t need live sex on stage.’

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'If you're strong enough, you don't need live sex on stage.’ Laszlo Magacs


Magacs emphasises the relevance of a text he acknowledges is difficult. As an experienced and internationally respected director who has worked with Peter Brook and Grotowski in the past, he is more than able to rise to the challenge. ‘In theatre,’ he says, “we talk about human stories, human relations, human desire strong emotions. If this doesn’t come from deep enough, it’s ridiculous, so we have to find truth.’

This quest for the human beneath an apparently daunting, oblique and metaphorical text seems to be the key to the success of Budapest’s English language theatre company, Merlin International Theatre, who wowed Edinburgh in 1998 with Bluebeard’s Castle. This year, Merlin has entrusted the central role in its production to British actress Beth Fitzgerald, already a Stage Best Actress Award winner for her performance in House Of Correction. So how do you master both text and orgasm in performance?

‘This is a very heightened language,’ Fitzgerald says, ‘but you feel the rhythm of it and realise that, once you’ve got the language, it’s all there. It feels very over the top and it has to be quite stylised, so you learn over a few weeks that you can say a line without feeling silly. You find the style and it is a style.’

And how does she make an audience believe that her character wants to give her body to a body? ‘Her passion is such that she must have her husband again. We don’t see him, of course, but she describes him, and she’s shocked, because he’s a mess. But she just wants him and she is in such a state by this time that she’s ready to die.’

A complex issue, then. But when so much of the Fringe is about late-night laugh-ins, Laodamia with its melodramatic, mythic narrative might just prove the most intellectually rewarding show in town.

Laodamia (Fringe) Merlin International Theatre, Famous Grouse I-louse (Venue 34) 220 5606, 6-30 Aug (not 16, 23) 8pm, £8 (£6).

5-12 Aug 1999 THE usns