Thursday, 21 February 2013

2013 Adelaide Fringe Review - The Blue Room

2013 Adelaide Fringe Review - The Blue Room 
by David Hare
Presented by 5 Pound Theatre, directed by Jason Cavanagh
Starring Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod
At Urban Spaceman Vintage, 2/27 Gresham Street @ 9.00pm until 2 March

Standing out in a somewhat down-at-heel Gresham Street watching a Reeperbahnesque performance in a shop window makes a most interesting start to a theatrical evening.  The vintage clothing store Urban Spaceman is transformed into a performance space for this production of David Hare’s loose 1998 adaptation of Schnitzler’s La Ronde, and so the display window was put to novel use as a prologue to the play.

Despite being an adaptation, this is very much a David Hare play, in particular in its portrayal of incongruous, enigmatic relationships or encounters, such as that between the MP Charles and the model Kelly, or between the actress and the wealthy American, Malcolm.  Hare has long had a fascination with the power politics of love, and so it is not only the prostitute Irene for whom sex is a transaction.  Unfulfilled yearning - for love, for excitement, for a better world - is always at the heart of Hare’s plays, although in The Blue Room it is not always clear just what it is that the characters are yearning for.  There is the suggestion throughout the play that relationships and sex are a way of diverting ourselves from our disappointment with life, and that love, if it comes along, is but a temporary distraction, a way of momentarily forgetting an emptiness that the play would seem to be suggesting is at the heart of existence.

If this sounds as though it makes for an overwhelmingly grim evening, this is far from being the case.  The production is notable for a simply outstanding performance by Kaitlyn Clare.  Worthy of particular praise are her portrayals of the French au pair Marie, Kelly the eastern European model, and Emma the middle-class married woman, although all of her characterisations are of the highest quality.  When the characters demand it, she is in turn vulnerable, domineering, confused and calculating, and manages to play both youthful and more mature characters with equal precision.  Ms Clare’s physical characterisations were also deftly differentiated, and she can both totter on high heels when stoned and play the theatrical grand dame with equal elan.  This is a highly accomplished piece of acting and shows Ms Clare to be an extremely versatile actress with a great range, and we can expect to see her playing major roles in our leading theatres in the not too distant future.

Zak Zavod’s performance is perhaps less frequently engaging (although I would venture to suggest that this is as much to do with the playwright as with the performer), in that the range of characterisations is possibly too wide to reasonably expect one actor to take on, particularly in the no-frills world of fringe theatre.  It might be an unreasonable expectation for an actor to successfully engage with the characters of both Anton and Charles, and so it is not surprising that the latter was the least fleshed-out character in Mr Zavod’s repertoire.  Having said this, I nevertheless enjoyed his portrayal of the pompous playwright Robert, and Malcolm the American suitor, that latter being Mr Zavod’s most successful creation and providing one of the play’s stand-out scenes.

This production has attempted to make a virtue out of necessity in its staging and, one or two costuming quibbles aside, director Jason Cavanagh’s spare setting, limited lighting and imaginative use of an unconventional theatre space serve the play well.  However, it is Ms Clare’s performance that is the main attraction and if there is a better acting performance at this year’s Fringe, I should be very much surprised.

Cadogan and Hall at the 2013 Adelaide Fringe