Die 120 Tage Von Sodom: Sex, scatology and deadpan humour

In a two-hour block separated into segments, the Swiss production 120 Days of Sodom carefully dismantles Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious ‘art horror’ film, released in 1975. Based on the writings of the Marques de Sade (interest in whose work never seems to fade) it tells the story of a group of fascists who kidnap 18 teenagers and “subject them to months of extreme violence, sadism and sexual and mental torture” (wikipedia).
The play dissects taboo subjects – textbook adolescent male fantasies – with some delicacy and much deadpan humour. It ramps up the morally and legally questionable in collaborating with the theatre company Hora, a professional troupe whose performers are all officially certified as having a learning disability.
Scenes of rape and feasting on faeces are extracted and re-enacted with artifice and gravitas. Concealing the graphic elements we would expect today, we are instructed with an analytical distancing experience, devoid of madness or even impulsion. It exposes a modern ideology that is objective yet obsessive, superficial and overexposed.
Whatever it may mean to each of us, 120 Days forces the audience to struggle with a personal sense of what is appropriate and what is gratuitous, instead of allowing ourselves to be spun along by whatever a spectacle – theatre, media or politics – provides. An actor tells of how on discovering his unborn child had a disability, they aborted it in the womb; death and birth in a single instant, the story of the end of a story, never begun.

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