Erotic encounter leaves cultural thrill-seekers cold

'The Blue Room' | Theatre Royal, London
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The Independent Culture

Is David Hare's The Blue Room in danger of becoming the Ibiza Uncovered of the cultured, theatre-going classes? It, too, is all about sex and the prospect of people taking their kit off. It, too, has hangovers and post-coital tristesse. All that is missing is the sea. Certainly, it is a piece that - on the grounds of low budget and even lower desires - is destined to materialise at every cash-strapped repertory in the country.

Is David Hare's The Blue Room in danger of becoming the Ibiza Uncovered of the cultured, theatre-going classes? It, too, is all about sex and the prospect of people taking their kit off. It, too, has hangovers and post-coital tristesse. All that is missing is the sea. Certainly, it is a piece that - on the grounds of low budget and even lower desires - is destined to materialise at every cash-strapped repertory in the country.

Not surprising, then, that this witty, achingly stylish production by Loveday Ingram is the second English revival of the play since it was launched in a blaze of publicity at the Donmar Warehouse two years ago. On that occasion, Nicole Kidman aroused some of my colleagues to such a state of priapism that only the wifely threat of a kitchen knife could bring them back down (so to speak) to earth.

The Blue Room is Hare's contemporary reworking of Schnitzler's shocker La Ronde, written in 1900. The police raided the premiÿre of that work for its frank, objective portrayal of a daisy chain of erotic encounters, seen before and after the act, in which one partner from each union moves on to the next. Nowadays, though, the police would be more likely to block-book the show for their annual outing because the effect of this updated version is merely titillating.

The couple who act out all the couplings with aplomb are the exquisitely gamine Camilla Power and the dark, stockily handsome Michael Higgs. Their quick changes through the various quickies (performed in full view on a minimalist set of sliding blue doors) range from cocksure cabbie to self-effacing aristo, from emotionally needy prostitute to clichéd grande dame.

These actors have a naturally warm and engaging presence but they cannot save the play from seeming cold and superior, for all its attempts to suggest a tug of thwarted romantic yearning. I found myself hating the dumb "clever" joke of posting up the length of time each bout of sex had lasted. Apart from clinically confusing duration and subjective experience, it invites the laughter of defensive ridicule rather than identification.

In one scene, an MP's wife, whom we have already witnessed romping with a student, is discovered perusing a Harry Potter book in one of the marital twin beds. The drollness of that detail is outweighed by obviousness. It would have been funnier if she had been shown browsing through Hare's recently published journals Acting Up in which he congratulates himself on having achieved the difficult tone of this play: "world-weary, yes, clear-eyed, yes, but also full of the vulnerability of the search for love". Well, it is nice to know that he is satisfied. The rest of us, frankly, are still waiting for the earth to move.

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