[Published in The Age, August 9 2012]
THREE AND A HALF STARS
WHEN Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen opened in Vienna in 1921, police shut it down on opening night and later charged the playwright with obscenity. When David Hare’s adaptation The Blue Room opened in London in 1998, starring Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen, patrons flocked to catch a glimpse of Kidman’s bare derriere.
This provocative two-hander, performed here by Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod, is a sexual daisy chain of a play. Desire is an infection, spawned from a midnight tryst between a prostitute and a taxi driver, who passes the disease onto a range of successive characters. It’s exhausting even to watch.
As in most of Hare’s work, the personal and the political remain close bedfellows. Sex transcends England’s rigid class system – the au pair for a bourgeois family bonks both the cockney cabbie and the preppy son; the aristocrat is just as satisfied by the actress as the streetwalker – each copulation becoming an increasingly pathetic attempt to escape the everyday.
Director Jason Cavanagh has chosen to play up the comedic side of Hare’s script (though the use of songs like ‘You Sexy Thing’ to indicate gratification is a cheap and repetitive gag). The Owl and the Pussycat is an ideal venue, the intimacy of its terrace shopfront used to ingenious effect.
Nudity is more gratuitous than in previous productions, but ironically this lessens its impact: the actors’ awkwardness as they change underpants before the audience strips their bodies of any eroticism. Sex does not bestow power here, only vulnerability.
The Blue Room will be performed at The Owl and the Pussycat until August 18.