Resurrecting Kenneth Tynan’s soft porn stage sensation of the Seventies as a DVD (without extras) in the sexually liberated Noughties is an odd one. For a start, this is theatre which, by the fact of its age, cannot fail to feel dated. For seconds, it was filmed in 1972 when Hair was considered cutting edge.

Let’s be fair, the actors do well. They feel comfortable naked although, considering the faux eroticism and simulated intercourse on display, the guys demonstrate immaculate restraint in controlling the blood vessels in their (no longer) private regions. The gals work hard to stimulate a response, even a standing ovation, without success, which only emphasises the charade.

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Devised as a series of sketches, written by such luminaries as Jules Feiffer, Sam Shepard and John Lennon, and interspersed with balletic interludes in the buff, the show must have knocked the knickers off repressed theatregoers, already unzipped by the myth of the Sixties with its rumour of free love, happy baccy and velvet flares. It played in cities throughout the world, breaking box office records and may now be considered the Mamma Mia! of its time, which only goes to show that after the orgy we have returned to an age of innocence.

The sketches are parodies of What The Butler Saw, titillating sexual fantasies taken a little further and given unexpurgated dialogue to shock the audience into nervous laughter. There is a nasty rape scene in a nursery, an incident of Victorian sadism that backfires, a lazy Southern sittin’-on-the-porch kinda chewin’ the fat between a father and son that degenerates into detailed descriptions of the horizontal jive, a sex experiment in a lab (nurses aflutter), a swingers evening between a rookie couple and experienced fornicators that ends with a premature ejaculation gag and four guys masturbating to images of big tits, except the new bloke can only get off on a picture of Roy Rogers – where’s Trigger?

Oh! Calcutta stretches the boundaries, or did then. It is neither art, nor theatre. It’s like pulling down your shorts behind the school gym because Pauline Richards said she would kiss you on the mouth if you let her look. She didn’t. She ran away laughing.

You might run away, but you won’t be laughing.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2008
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Oh! Calcutta! packshot
The soft porn stage sensation of the Seventies filmed in the theatre, naked and unashamed.
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Director: Jacques Levy

Writer: Robert Benton, Jules Feiffer, Dan Greenburg, John Lennon, Jacques Levy, Leonard Melfi, David Newman, Margo Sappington, Sam Shepard, Clovis Trouille, Kenneth Tynan, Sherman Yellen

Starring: Raina Barrett, Mark Dempsey, Samantha Harper, Patricia Hawkins, Bill Macy, Mitchell McGuire, Gary Rethmeier, Margo Sappington, Nancy Tribush, George Welbes

Year: 1972

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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