Wednesday, 15 January 2003

The Blue Room by David Hare, MTC, Jan 15, 2003

The Blue Room by David Hare  
 Melbourne Theatre Company  (MTC)
 Playhouse, Vic Arts Centre
When: Monday to Saturday, Jan 15 to Feb 15, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

The Blue Room, the much-publicised play by David Hare, weathered the hype surrounding its arrival.

Simon Phillips'  slick and funny production is a crowd pleaser. The highlight is not the two television stars ( Marcus Graham,  Sigrid Thornton)  getting their kit off nor the overtly sexual themes. It is Graham's  performance.

Both actors play five characters in ten scenes about ten diverse sexual encounters. Graham is compelling as all five. He is a chameleon, transforming physically, vocally and emotionally as he inhabits each character.

Thornton is a strong stage partner. Her role is challenging as she shifts accents from trashy London hooker to worldly French au pair or drug-addled Irish model. Her accents are not always perfect but Thornton is particularly good playing the lower class characters. She is charmingly naive as the young prostitute and she finds a potent blend of feisty and hapless in the Irish addict.

The difference is the effortlessness of Graham's performance. The enormous amount of work is evident in both actors but Graham makes it so real and natural. He moves from perky Cockney cabbie to self-conscious, anxious son of the privileged. His Politician is a study in arrogant reserve while his Scottish Playwright is an hilarious portrayal of a flamboyant, self-absorbed artist.

Graham's talent is innate, inexplicable and almost animal.  His most moving and subtly drawn character is the Aristocrat. His melancholy, his stillness, his desperate seeking for love and the romantic ideal are deeply moving.

The play is based on Arthur Schnitzler  19th century play, Reigen. The Blue Room is a series of scenes designed like a circle dance. Each person moves on to a new partner.

Hare's play is light, funny and entertaining whereas Schnitzler emphasised the darker side of sexual affairs. Everyone is seen in two relationships. Characters shift status, their power and sexuality taking on a different dynamic as they assume a new mask with another partner.

The script flags a little by the eighth or ninth scene but is redeemed by the final poignant relationship between the Aristocrat and the Hooker. When the Aristocrat faces his alcoholic amnesia, deeper layers seep through. Similarly, the drama is heightened in the jaded young life of the addict.

Characters selfishly tamper with others' lives, emerging emotionally unscathed. Others are so vulnerable they seem ready to shatter.

Stephen Curtis' design of angular stone, steel and glass is a fine counterpoint to the chaotic relationships and emotional morass of the characters. Iain Grandage's  incidental music is appropriately sexy jazz. The icy blues of Matt Scott's  lighting create a sickly glow that emphasises the coldness of most of these encounters.

This is a very clever commercial play that is funny without pushing too far into the social psychology of sexual peccadilloes.

By Kate Herbert

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