The Blue Room

Aleksia Barron

5 POUND THEATRE: This provocative production of David Hare’s play punches above its weight, with strong performances and smart direction helping it rise above technical limitations.
The Blue Room
5 Pound Theatre’s provocative production of The Blue Room punches above its weight, with taut performances and smart direction helping it rise above its technical limitations.

Few plays occupy so potent a place in the theatre world as The Blue Room. The source text, Arthur Schnitzler’s Der Reigen (more commonly known by its French translation, La Ronde), was shut down by police on its opening night in Vienna, and the playwright was charged with obscenity. David Hare adapted The Blue Room from it, and its debut season in 1998 made headlines worldwide thanks to a much-discussed cameo by Nicole Kidman’s bottom.

The Blue Room asks a lot of those who would perform it. It’s commonly described as a sexual daisy chain in which characters are linked by their moments of physical intimacy. It opens with The Girl and The Cab Driver, who briefly couple. The next scene shows a physical relationship blossom between The Cab Driver and The Au Pair, and the next shows The Au Pair getting involved with The Student... you get the idea. Hare’s script calls for the characters to be played by just two actors, so each must play five roles throughout the show. It may be a two-person play, but it’s the opposite of simple.

Jason Cavanagh is brilliantly engaged with the script, and under his direction, actors Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod flourish. The two young performers deal admirably with the challenge of assuming five different characters, and succeed where many experienced thespians would likely fail. Despite his obvious youth, Zavid manages to inhabit the skin of everyone from the rough-edged Cab Driver to the oily Playwright. Clare’s highs and lows are more extreme – her Model and Married Woman are both sublime, but her Actress feels uncomfortable – she doesn’t wear this particular role as easily as some of the others. Her accent control is not as tight as Zavid’s either, but then, considering that she has to tackle Russian and French accents as well as British variations, she’s eligible for a higher difficulty score.

Both embrace the sexuality of the production. Cavanagh has elected to go heavy on the nudity, but does so smartly. The characters’ nakedness never feels exploitative, but rather symbolic of their vulnerability. The script’s call to cut to black and play music when the characters have sex has been retained, and works well, although some of the song choices are simply too obvious (‘Mrs Robinson’ for the Married Woman and the Student isn’t the most creative option).

The biggest problem with this production lies with the technical decisions. The scenes themselves are good, and the actors are talented, but the endless scene changes are too long and too cumbersome, and very costly in terms of momentum.

The actors handle the majority of the scenery and prop changeovers and while dragging plinths to and fro, Clare and Zavid vacillate between stony determination and relieved camaraderie. If they’re still in character, it isn’t clear, and if they’re not, it’s too long for them to be slipping out of their roles in front of the audience.

Still, they say a good finish is everything, and The Blue Room certainly nails it in this case. The final scene uses the unique converted shopfront of the Owl and Pussycat in an immensely clever fashion. It’s flourishes like this that prove Cavanagh isn’t afraid of bold, visionary theatre, and The Blue Room suggests exciting things could be in store for 5 Pound Theatre in the future.

Rating: 3 ½ stars out of 5

5 Pound Theatre present
The Blue Room
By David Hare
Directed by Jason Cavanagh
Set/Lighting Design: Rob Sowinski
Costume: Mahnya Smith
Cast: Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod

The Owl and the Pussycat, Richmond
August 7 – 18
Update: Season extended until September 25

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Aleksia is a Perth-grown, Melbourne-transplanted writer and critic who suffers from an incurable addiction to theatre, comedy and screen culture.