Very Pleasant Sensations

Rating ***

Reviewed by Tony Peters

Set in 1937, writer Paul Guest’s first play tells the story of a meeting at London’s Jermyn Street Bathhouse between writers Christopher Isherwood and W H Auden and the composer Benjamin Britten.

The baths were a notorious place of liaison for the city’s gay men and Guest’s scenario has the more experienced, worldly-wise Isherwood escorting the apprehensive and younger (but no less sexually willing) Britten to the baths with obvious intentions. Once there, they meet Isherwood’s sometime lover, W H Auden.

Performed on a single, simple set, it’s very much performance driven.

Christopher York gives a poignant turn as Britten, a man clearly searching for something more than the physical and the transient nature of the sexual encounter that he eventually has leaves him dispirited and broken.

Ben Woods as Auden gets many of the best lines and Woods plays him as an outrageous queen in the best theatrical tradition — “was he a dirty boy?” could almost become a catchphrase it’s delivered with such aplomb.

Auden is a man under no illusions about why everyone is here and is happy to play that game. He reveals a cynical, even cruel streak though when Britten expresses his disillusionment and could even be described as predatory, hitting on the young composer when he is clearly most vulnerable.

The part if Isherwood (Benjamin Vivian-Jones) is rather underwritten. His character isn’t really developed and we never learn more about him beyond the good time Charlie plying Britten with champagne at the start.

In the end, it really doesn’t go anywhere. Britten is living an empty life sexually and is far from happy and we’re never really sure if Auden’s casual attitude is genuine or bravado to cover up what he equally knows to be an empty existence.

Ultimately the performances can’t be faulted and it’s well marshaled by director Dan Phillips, but even at around 70 minutes it felt padded and in need of some editing.

Written by Paul J Guest
Directed by Dan Phillips

Christopher Isherwood – ​Benjamin Vivian-Jones
Wystan Auden – ​Ben Woods
Benjamin Britten​ – Christopher York