Actor Dushan Philips tests his own sexual boundaries while playing an orgy-master in this classic porn novel adaptation
Teleny, or the Reverse of the Medal is an anonymous homoerotic porno novel from the late 19th century. It’s rumoured that none other than Oscar Wilde and his circle of friends were the collective writers, each taking their turn in writing a chapter, round robin style. Now it’s been adapted as a stage play here in Melbourne by writer Barry Lowe and director Robert Chuter, and going by all reports, it’s promising to be a pretty racy theatrical experience.
Essentially Teleny... is a love story between Frenchman Camille and the beautiful Hungarian pianist, Teleny. It also involves Camille’s mother, organised orgies and sex with multiple people, both male and female. Playing the part of Briancourt – organiser of said orgies – is Dushan Philips. Sri Lankan-born, he’s lived in London, New Zealand and now Melbourne, and came relatively late to the cast.
“I responded to an ad,” explains Philips. “Lots of people had dropped out and Robert needed to fill a couple of parts. The cast decided who they were going to choose and I was one of them. Robert has a very unique way of working, but inhibition cannot come into the mix. If you have the slightest resistance to anything, it doesn’t work. To have a cast that is synchronised is paramount."
Briancourt sees sexuality as an expression of self, with no boundaries. "He falls in love with both Camille and Teleny," says Philips. "He’s the flamboyant, free-loving orgy organiser – it’s quite a chunky role in that respect.”
Despite the play’s eroticism, nudity and simulated sex, Philips embraces the role. “From the get-go, Robert highlighted that what is required is a certain level of fearlessness. I’m straight, but I had to ask the right questions, and one of them was, 'Is it possible that I might be gay?' I went out and did the right thing – rather than ignore that, I went out to try and understand that. So I kissed men, and then I established I wasn’t gay. And that same level of fearlessness exists in the rest of the cast.”
Philips is fairly certain audiences will find it confronting. “That’s the point of it, of course. Any risk that could possibly be taken, we’re taking it. That’s done intentionally because we want to push buttons. If it’s done right, it could be taken two ways; it could be considered a brilliant piece of art, or it could be considered absolute rubbish!”