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We know what makes a romantic comedy. It’s the premise by which love conquers all obstacles – and in the current Hollywood model – this usually refers to the foolishness of the man. So what makes a romantic tragedy? Well that is when the will of love can not over come its circumstance or context – eg Romeo and Juliet. Sweet Nothings is a romantic tragedy and is billed as “A sexy, funny and daring new adaptation of Liebelei by Arthur Schnitzler (the writer who inspired Eyes Wide Shut and The Blue Room), Sweet Nothings explores the power of sexual longing, the cruelty of tradition and the vulnerability of those in love.”

However, I found nothing sexy nor funny nor daring nor particularly new in this adaptation or production.

I found a fairly basic (and nearly misogynistc) reading of sexual relationship… two men Fritz (Graeme McRae) and Theo (Owen Little) without imagination seduce two women Mizi (Clementine Mills) and Christine (Matilda Ridgeway). Fritz and Theo treat Mizi and Christine as if they are just objects of distraction on a conveyer belt of sexual gratification. Killing time with these women, the men offer no depth of emotion, no intimacy beyond some over eager cunnilingus on a couch. I guess I have a different view of what is sexy… and daring… and for that matter what is new.

Sophie Fletcher’s set design created a dual level apartment which lacked detail of the extravagance and lavish life suggested in the script of the officer’s apartment. The second act transformation into Christine’s apartment is also lacking in depth and detail. For a piece of writing which is presented as a piece of naturalism – the detail is important, and lacking in this production.

The performances are largely presented in a very overt and unsubtle way, with the exception of Matilda Rigeway’s Christine and some soft and genteel moments from Mark Lee as Weiring – Christine’s father.

What is most troublesome is the director’s (John Kachoyan) attraction to this particular script. The premise is very simple and within the 15th minute of the play we understand how this love story is going to play out. Fritz has been confronted about his affair with another man’s wife – despite being (a rather aloof and emotionally constipated) boyfriend to Christine and must fight in a duel. He, in keeping with being an aloof and emotionally constipated boyfriend, does not tell Christine this. But why would he – there is nothing to suggest genuine yearning from his part? Christine is in love with him (and who knows why?) and he’s using her. We get that. Its up front and centre in the play. And so? Where have we to go dramatically?

Well… nowhere.

We, the audience then sit and watch the delusional yearnings of Christine. And we watch her father watch her delusional yearnings.

The problem is we have no desire to want Fritz to have Christine’s love. And this is a pivitol aspect of romantic stories (comedies or tragedies) – we want good people to have good things (love) and we want bad people to be transformed by good things (love).

What seems so strained about this is not only the lack of chemistry between the characters, and the lack of detail in the design – but also the completely clumsy transplanting of the context (Both playwright and adapter are European) in design and voice. There is no socio-political understanding context of Sydney’s cultural landscape or identity invested in this production. There seems to be a very light understanding of the socio-political context of the play’s origins (Freud anyone?). And so what we are left with is a very pedestrian portrait of male communication/desire and female imagination/lust.

But perhaps I’ve missed something deeper?

Could this be the new cynical view of love?

Some sort of honest portrait of how men only understand men, women only understand women – and that the only man you can trust to love is your father?

Perhaps I am too much the romantic? Perhaps I am as naive as Christine is? I believe that there can be an undeniable connection between men and women – that people are geared to group together – and I also think that lust, love, sex are human traits that aren’t limited to gender or sexual preference. So I found Sweet Nothings to be a mechanical and very familiar white, hetero-normative, gender-biased portrait of these ideas. Not really anything new, or bold.

Tickets, times and more details at: http://www.atyp.com.au/under-the-wharf/productions/sweet-nothings#sthash.oDCrZoio.dpuf