First Night: Platform, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Unconvincing adaptation numbs Houellebecq's shocker
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The Independent Culture

Anyone who hasn't read Michel Houellebecq's novel Platform may not know what to make of its stage première, the final drama offering of Brian McMaster's last Edinburgh International Festival. Warnings were pressed on audience members, advising them that "extreme and sexually explicit video images" would be shown in the production.

No one knowing the work of the Catalan director Calixto Bieito could be surprised. The setting is, on one side of a central revolve, a peep show - a series of booths with slot machines and screens on which graphic scenes of sexual acts run intermittently, and at varying speeds, throughout the performance. And you just know that the rubber sex doll seated at the keyboard will soon be hoisted from her perch and repositioned, many times over.

Whether or not Bieito quite captures the ferocity of Houellbecq's imagination is arguable. A co-production with Barcelona's Teatre Romea and Ajuntament de Viladecans, Platform is presented in Edinburgh with English surtitles. The book is reduced to a series of monologues centred around Michel, a dull and disillusioned French civil servant. On a package tour to Thailand he finds himself withdrawing from the male fantasies, jokes and frustrations of his nondescript companions. Their blatant racism and shallow hypocrisy dominate the bar where a naked girl strums chords, whispers snatches of tuneless melody then flits around, toying with the poles supporting the overhead platform.

Back in Paris Michel begins a sexual encounter with one fellow traveller, Valérie. In a particularly convincing performance by Juan Echanove as Michel, their relationship blossoms into a sweaty, ecstatic love affair. Along with Valérie's boss, they launch a range of holidays for those craving a sexual paradise with no strings attached. Avoiding the territories of S & M into which Houllebecq strays like a scavenging dog and cutting out the public sex scenes, Bieito does include a description of one violent rape.

But for him Platform seems to have been an exercise in self-restraint. Seldom have so many flies been opened and closed and shirt tails drawn awkwardly down over genitals. Some may find it distateful, others may applaud but, presented as it is in a vulgar wrapping with some fairly excruciating music, it is a mite dull.

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