Sweet Nothings, Young Vic, London

4.00

Hedonists' good night in Vienna

A beautiful, shifty young man blows the dust off an artificial flower. He tells the young girl that she should have real blooms in her boudoir and that he will bring her some, but then his voice trails away. What he can't reveal is that he is about to fight a duel over a married woman with whom he's also been idly dallying. Unlike her more realistic female friend, the girl has family reasons for needing a romantic ideal and dreams of escape. The youth not entirely insincere, but he's a poor bet. Not that there would be many bona fide candidates, for this is Vienna at the brink of the 20th century and it's a world of fraught, half-frank sexual hang-ups, rising militarism, and the kind of liberation for women that allows them to trail allure, provided that the trail is just the continuation of chains by other means.

Arthur Schnitzler skewered this society with an acute psychological penetration that drew praise from Freud. The dramatist's vision is conveyed now in a brilliant, intensely deliberate and eerily stylish production by the Vienna-based, Swiss-born director Luc Bondy.

The proceedings unfold on a circular disc of a stage and, in the very first moments, a tipsily complacent young male character topples off this raised, deconsecrated host of a space into the orchestra pit beneath. The art nouveau curves and decadent colour schemes of the bachelor flat in the first half give way to the virginal white of the heroine's rectilinear bedroom in the second, with the visual constant of a window that dangles like some free-standing empty picture-frame, symbolising the dream of escape and the dread of being watched, as the stage almost imperceptibly edges round.

The translation is by the gifted playwright, David Harrower, and, though it has the odd confrontationally crashing anachronism, as when one of the two young bucks sums up his attitude to women as a case of "wham, bam, thank you, ma'am", it is full of cunning locutions that unlock the unlovely male mentality of the time and the rearguard actions of the young women who now have the dubious privilege of coping with men who are prepared to be (to a certain extent) programmatically upfront about their shittiness. In the first half, a party from hell (all drunken homoerotic horseplay from the men as they attempt to molest the women) is brought to a devastating close when the black-garbed cuckolded husband (a softly chilling Andrew Wincott) arrives and, with the hint that this may be a paper trail to death and perdition, distributes the cuckold's folded billets-doux to his wife around the flat.

Dispensing witless, chauvinist puns, Jack Laskey is authentically obnoxious as the sensation-seeking, sexist sidekick. In an auspicious stage debut, Tom Hughes radiates a compelling mix of would-be cool and boyish desperation as the shifty youth who is challenged to a duel. All terminally neat, scraped-back dowdiness, Hayley Carmichael is bottled essence of resentful puritan reproof as a nosy neighbour.

To 10 April (020 7922 2922; www.youngvic.org ); then touring

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup