Monday, 15 March 2010

Oedipus at Waterloo

To the theatre again, the National this time. Somehow I'd managed to book tickets for a play that I'd not even heard of, let alone knew anything about: London Assurance.

It is, I learned, a mid-19th century comedy - fantastically, dizzily funny, too, in this version. Also that, according to an old Guardian article that I read after the event, it is 'the missing link between restoration comedy and Oscar Wilde's witty comedies of manners'. Its writer, Dion Boucicault, was, like Wilde, Anglo-Irish - though hetero rather than homo and bigamous than monogamous(ish). In this production, the lead character, Sir Harcourt Courtly, is played as Oscar Wilde - fat and bisexual with a flapping handkerchief.

In fact, it's even Wilder than that. It's clearly an uncanny kind of precursor to The Importance of Being Earnest. It has a cigar-smoking, dominatrix of country wife called Lady Gay Spanker - who is a kind of Lady Bracknell on a foxhunter. It's about being one thing in the country and another thing in town. It has the same struggle with the meaning of identity:

Courtly: Will you excuse an impertinent question?

Dazzle: Certainly.

Courtly: Who the deuce are you?

Dazzle: I have not the remotest idea.

What's it got to do with this blog, though? Well, London Assurance reminded me that, for one of my essays on my MSc, I considered the Importance of Being Earnest from a Freudian perspective - as Oedipus Rex reconstructed as farce.

One of Freud's 'proofs' - or, at least, indicators - of the validity of his Oedipal theory was the fact that audiences were still going to see the Sophoclean tragedy two and half millennia after it was written. He reckoned this was because the motherfucking fatherkilling narrative dramatised universal fantasies and hidden desires. I suggested that the same could perhaps be said of the enduring popularity of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Still and all, though, there is no direct mother-son liaison in Wilde's play. London Assurance, however, centres - via the usual ridiculous and delicious complexities of farce - around the possibility of a young man desiring a woman who could well become his mother. Maybe that's why the laughter was so, so loud - an escape of hidden repressive desire. Maybe.

Next up The second of those four questions about Freud's validity and what I might or might not have learned on the course: determination and the place of free will in a Freudian universe

1 comment:

Camille Phi said...

Hello Pete, i need to post u a mail. It's about ask something about your visit in Paris the 21 may 78. I read that on return of the last gang in Town. I write a novel about that. If it's possible to talk on this subject, this is may mail. Thank.
my blog is, but in french. Bye