REVIEW: Amatory Asylum (The Wellington Members Club) ★★★

House of Kittens is a theatre company committed to the art of erotic storytelling, with their newest intrigue called the Amatory Asylum, which promises to ignite the senses with a series of conceptual, theatrical vignettes. Dr Lili La Fleur, presiding physician as Head of Sexual Psychological Studies at the Asylum, presents a portfolio of patients for us to examine, challenging the historic topic of female ‘hysteria’ and offering an insight into the minds of their human experiments. We are surrounded by women in knee-length white medical gowns, but I spot tell-tale signs of nipple covers and lingerie strings beneath the sheer fabric – my intrigue could not be higher.

From a visual perspective, Amatory Asylum is a feast for the eyes. Decadent costumes and eye-catching, provocative lingerie; a myriad of styles both modern and from earlier decades. Structurally, the evening is entertainingly varied, chopping between live performances, videos playing on a large projector and an eclectic range of music, with each performance lasting a few minutes. Due to the shortness of each act, the pace of the evening was timely and held our attention well, with no room for restlessness. A seemingly solid wall revealed itself to be transparent, and all of a sudden another room appeared to us, offering a new realm of excitement as we watched performances within a cube of glass. Audience participation was encouraged in various ways, my favourite being the instruction: “If you are handed a potion, drink it” – not being one for disobedience, I drank the mysterious bottled blue liquid that an Amatory nurse handed to me (whatever it was, it was rather nice but bloody strong).

The performances focused on the characterisation of various conditions and psychosexual disorders, with one example being a patient classified as experiencing stygiophilia (the fear of hell) and masochism (deriving satisfaction from one’s own pain or humiliation). Performances mostly involved dance, but also delved into kink and smatterings of comedy. A theme prevalent in almost every scene was the removal of clothing, down to the bareness of nipple tassels, suspenders, basques, heels and a variety of other accessories. Whilst this gained a great deal of clapping and whooping, it became tiringly predictable and felt engineered towards satisfying the male gaze, moving from the initial gusto of standing for female empowerment and sexual liberty to the unfortunate realm of seedy and misguided.

An issue for me with the cast of House of Kittens is the noticeable lack of diversity in its ranks, mostly consisting of white, slim, conventionally ‘beautiful’ women. As this performance is so intensively focused on the act of voyeurism and paying close attention to the appearances of the performers, this is something that was glaringly obvious and an unavoidable factor. If the performance is aiming to celebrate and break down the walls of female sexuality then it does so with a very limited physical and racial bandwidth, adding a huge realm of exclusion. Unfortunately, this plays into the hands of stereotypical beauty norms and sends a clear message (without a doubt unintended, but unfortunate) about what a sexually desirable woman looks like.

Amatory Asylum is well worth a visit if you are looking for a thrilling, eyebrow-raising start to an evening of drinking and debauchery, as the ladies of House of Kittens sure know how to get the party started. Packed with visual splendour, an excellent soundtrack and several visual treats that you wouldn’t see on an average day, this has spades of fun factor and a heavily stylised narrative. Does it penetrate further than skin-deep and leave a memorable, feminist-driven, empowering mark on the world? Sadly not. However, have I felt inspired to add to my nipple tassel collection? Abso-bloody-lutely.

Reviewed by Laura Evans


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