Theatre-goers get ready for the racy Teleny
Stephen A Russell talks to director Robert Chuter about the very sexy adaptation of Teleny.
The hidden tragedy behind the story of Peter Pan Author J.M. Barrie and his adopted sons was brought to life as an intimate tale of forbidden love in last year’s The Death Of Peter Pan. Presented by Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre at Chapel Off Chapel, it was penned by celebrated playwright Barry Lowe and staged with a revealing honesty by film and theatre director Robert Chuter.
It’s no surprise that the achingly beautiful piece struck a chord with theatregoers.
“It was a period piece about two young men who found themselves gay in a period where it wasn’t acceptable,” Chuter says. “The audience really responded to that.”
Looking to build on the success of The Death Of Peter Pan, Chuter turned to Lowe’s adaptation of Teleny, a late 19th century pornographic and seriously melodramatic novel rumoured, but not proven, to be penned by Oscar Wilde and his inner circle. It certainly contains a mishmash of ideas and writing styles.
“One minute it’s very flowery, then it’s very sexy, then it’s flowery again,” Chuter says. “That’s a bit of a challenge to adapt, but Barry’s known as the grandmother of gay theatre in Australia, and he’s also called Barry Lowlife.”
Lowe found the heart of the story in its doomed romance between Camille, a wealthy businessman who is afraid to come out and jeopardise his way of life, and young Teleny, a devastatingly handsome pianist whom Camille idolises. They say the course of true love never runs smoothly, and Teleny certainly fits the bill. A party boy who leads a debauched life, he’ll sleep with anyone who can further his career.
Rather than shy away from the overtly sexual material, Chuter has embraced it fully, adapting the explicit scenes into stylised dance, mostly performed atop a grand piano over which hangs a huge chandelier.
“Even today, sexuality and nudity is still taboo,” he says.
“There seems to be a drift towards conservatism. Oscar Wilde wouldn’t walk around in underwear at an orgy. I had to find actors that were fearless, because there was going to be nudity and all kinds of sexuality. It’s taken a year to get the right people.”
Watch the preview for Teleny
The cast includes Jackson Raine (BeastMaster) as the flighty Teleny and Tom Byers as Camille.
“Jackson is completely fearless,” Chuter says. “He does it without flinching. Tom’s a young actor from Tasmania and this is his first big gig. He’s phenomenal. They share a lot of intimate scenes, including sex and masturbation, and do it with aplomb.”
Comedian Jonathan Duffy plays a woman in the show, having shaved his eyebrows and hit the gym to get the right physique, in what is quite a gender-bending play that also features Frederique Fouche as both Camille’s mother, and as a man dressed as a woman in an orgy scene. “There is some drag in it too, but we didn’t want to do it in a clichéd way,” Chuter says.
Lowe has relocated the action to 1920s Paris, just as the classical movement is giving way to incoming jazz cats like Josephine Baker, and he’s brought the story back to basics, focusing the narrative on the relationship between Camille and Teleny. While he was obviously restricted by the real events on which The Death Of Peter Pan is based, Lowe felt freer here to make major adjustments to the plot.
“The novel’s a mess, and seems to equate sex with death, like Halloween or one of those horror movies,” he says. “You could get away with writing gay erotica in the late Victorian era if you had one or both of them die. Psychologically, it doesn’t work at all. There’s a blackmail sub-plot, and whoever wrote the next chapter obviously couldn’t be bothered with it and explained it away very quickly.”
Further exploring the ramifications of the blackmail, and examining other meaty issues including ageism with regards to sexuality, Lowe admits that some fans more used to his courting of scandal might be surprised by his treatment.
“There’s lots of sex going on in there, but I left about 50 per cent of it out,” he says. “I also got rid of some of the more gross elements, but with my reputation, I should never admit that.”
[Main image] Tom Byers and Dushan Philips. Photo: Jacqueline Barkla
Teleny, May 29 – June 15, Chapel off Chapel 12 Little Chapel Street Prahran, chapeloffchapel.com.au