“Have you ever been in love…?”
I would have loved to have gone up to Sheffield to catch one or more of the plays in the David Hare season currently playing, there’s some really interesting casting and I haven’t experienced much of Hare’s work at all, but two trips there last month and a tight schedule this month means it doesn’t look likely, so I had to look closer to home. And almost as if it was meant to be, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama obliged with a production of The Blue Room at the Bridewell. A free adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde (which seems an endlessly popular play for reinterpretations), this show is perhaps most (in)famous for the Donmar Warehouse’s production in which Iain Glen and Nicole Kidman covered all the roles and set certain critics’ flames alight.
The show features a daisy-chain of 10 anonymous characters in endless sexual encounters, one having sex with another until the final character meets the first and the circle is completed. Hare kept this structure in his version but moved to the action from fin-de-siècle Vienna to “one of the great cities of the world, in the present day” and had 2 actors play all the parts, demanding great versatility in portraying the multiple takes on lust, sex, class, power. This version though has a different person playing each part.
Performed in this way allows for a nice showcasing opportunity for the set of 10 actors but it also highlighted the slightness to the play in its collection of short scenes of varying quality and dialogue that seems to oscillate between the modernity of Hare and Schnitzler’s turn-of-the-century attitudes in a rather random manner which didn’t always sit so well. There’s a nice recurring theme of how people can modify their behaviour when they are with different people and how sex can used to gain all manners of things but ultimately the play felt somewhat superficial.
But given the constraints of Hare’s adaptation, a fine job was achieved by cast and crew. I particularly enjoyed Cai Brigden’s arrogant rich student turned starry-eyed romantic by his married lover, Kat Seelos as said richly-voiced lover, warmly amused by the puppyish attentions of her lover and coldly amused by the attitudes to women of her traditionalist politician husband and Rachael Deering’s actress, playful in her relationships with both playwrights and fans.
Tom Daley’s direction did well to make each of the scenes throb with some kind of emotional intensity in the build-up to the sex, well portrayed in darkened slow motion, and in the post-coital. He also did well to keep the many transitions smoothly effective to the tune of Mikko Gordon’s pulsing modern soundtrack, mixing and remixing well-known tunes, covering the realignment of designer Signe Beckmann’s Perspex boxes into endlessly flexible permutations. And I loved the effect of the tumbling fluorescent tubes in one corner, fading from colour to colour, it was almost pretty enough to watch on its own and credit should go to lighting designer Robert Dyer, still a student at Guildhall but demonstrating a talent to watch out for.