After the Moser’s lavish costume drama Dangerous Liaisons in third week, the powdered wigs and buckled shoes return for this gripping production of Quills at the OFS. Also set in France, the play takes place in a madhouse. This is run by the stringent and authoritatian Dr. Royer-Collard, who proudly flaunts his prudence, the absolute counterpart of the institution’s most infamous inmate: the Marquis de Sade (Max Hoehn).
Obsessive writer of pornography and avowed atheist, Sade is a bee in the tightly bound bonnet of the doctor’s authority. Reluctantly, the Abbé de Coulmier (Alex Bowles) authorises more violent treatment to extinguish Sade’s immoral passions, especially once Sade has begun canoodling with the asylum’s beautiful seamstress, Madeleine Leclere (Natasha Kirk). An extra plot strand comes in the form of Sade’s wife (played by Binky Thorneycroft), who donates money to the institute to pay for her husband’s penance, but is unknowingly funding the doctor’s architectural project instead.Enjoyable as some of these scenes with the architect Monsieur Prouix (Gareth Russell) are, they’re tiresome when Hoehn’s Sade is so entertaining.
Boisterously perverted and continually chuckling, Sade skips about, reeling off tales of pornographic fancy and enticing his lover, the impressionable seamstress Madeleine. Director Jonathan Rhodes has struck gold by choosing to divide the set, switching between Sade’s smutty cell and the doctor’s administrative office: both are bound to their writing desks, equally limited by their claustrophobic surroundings. The doctor’s world proves just as repulsive as Sade’s, ironically, as he controls people using violence and deceit: an observation powerfully conveyed by van der Klugt’s performance.
The play suffers from being consciously theatrical at times. By the second act, actors appear through an empty picture frame upstage, while the first scenes lag with expendable exposition.It is a real treat to see Hoehn recite such shocking literature with giggling glee, coaxing the stalwart Abbé to abandon his monastic purity.
The moral gap between these two is the most exciting thing to watch, especially since both are fated to a sticky end. Bleakly comic, the play shows how everyone suffers or goes insane: ‘We shit, we eat, we kill, we die.’ It’s that simple. morality just complicates things.By Frankie Parham