Theatre: The Kidman and the Hare

The Blue Room Donmar, WC2 Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick Lyttelton, SE1 Antony and Cleopatra Salisbury Playhouse

They've done it against the wall, they've done it on the kitchen unit, they've done it under a single duvet, they've done it in one of the twin singles, and they've done it on a hotel sofa. We're halfway through Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen's performances in The Blue Room and we are starting to think about hammocks, jacuzzis, backs of limos. When the next burst of plinkety- plonk music cuts in, what piece of furniture will the ever-ready stage hands be running on with?

If you don't know the plot of The Blue Room, David Hare's version of Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen or La Ronde, then it's easy enough to pick up. In the first scene Kidman plays a teenage girl who screws a man (Glen), who in the second scene screws a woman, who in the third scene screws a man, who in the fourth scene screws a woman, who in the fifth scene screws a man, who in the sixth scene screws a woman, who in the seventh scene screws a man, who in the eighth scene screws a woman, who in the ninth scene screws a man, who in the 10th scene screws Nicole Kidman's teenage girl again. That is, the same beat over and over again: theatre's answer to Ravel's Bolero.

In this version, Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen play all the roles which gives us plenty of views of Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen in various states of undress. But the play's strength comes from the way we get to observe characters at every level of society engaged in the same sexual charade. Its energy lies in the gap between the diversity of the characters and the uniformity of their desires. This panoramic view is lost when the cast shrinks from 10 to two. They nip in and out of beds and costumes, and change hairstyles, accents and physical mannerisms. They do this very well. You feel The Blue Room would make a great tape to send to agents.

Nicole Kidman trembles, pouts and giggles, casts off clothes, drapes herself across bed linen and throws out witty glances of disappointment when the sex is too quick. With pre-Raphaelite looks and a slinky figure, Kidman cleverly suggests innocence and immaculate personal hygiene, on the one hand, and foxiness and low-down dirty fun on the other. She creates a strong sense of sexual desire. Most of it is directed at her from the male half of the audience. But 100 minutes is a long time to gawp, even at Nicole Kidman.

Schnitzler was a Viennese doctor and a contemporary of Freud's. What should hold our attention is the clinical fearlessness of his dissection of desire. But Hare the romantic has the wrong sensibility for the piece. The portraits of 'taxi driver', 'au pair', 'student', 'married woman', 'politician' are generic to the point of blandness. No scene matches the moment in To Die For in which Nicole Kidman seduces the schoolboy. The encounter between the aristocrat and the actress comes over as a 19th-century exchange in modern dress. The relationship between actresses - a quaint term in itself - and aristocrats has changed over 100 years. Today, some actresses turn out to be aristocrats. For the 1990s, too, the sexual sequence remains doggedly heterosexual. But then, you can hardly expect Nicole Kidman to jump into bed with herself.

With a bare stage, a brick wall and a cast of two, Sam Mendes directs away from his strengths. He's a dab hand at men in a working environment (the newsmen in The Front Page, the map-room in Othello). He falters when a man and a woman are alone in a room. He can't find a way to do the ambience. The surtitles that get projected on the wall, giving the length of time of each sexual episode, is a good example of a running gag which dies on its feet.

Kidman's only wavery moment in an accomplished performance comes at the curtain call when she gives a bashful smile and knocks her knees together as if caught between a curtsey and a bow. The question as to whether or not she has talent for the stage will have to wait until she moves out of a studio space, like the Donmar, and into a reasonable sized theatre that requires her to project. As I left, someone in the street asked for my ticket-stub as a souvenir. It was easy to see why. The ticket is hotter than the show.

The playwright Terry Johnson put Freud and Salvador Dal together on stage in Hysteria and Einstein, Marilyn Monroe and Joe di Maggio together in Insignificance. In Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, he takes us backstage with Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Williams as they wait between takes on a Carry On film. Johnson's delightful play starts off full of wonderfully bad jokes and then, suddenly after the interval, turns elegiac.

Bill Dudley's design gives us a set within a set within a set. We look through the screen of an old Odeon cinema on to a back-projection of Pinewood Studios and into Sid James's trailer. Johnson cunningly uses these well- known figures as types against which he can draw out other surprising and poignant strands of their characters. At first sight, Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor appear to be the lech, the queen, and the good-natured wench. But Sid James has fallen in love with Barbara Windsor, and Barbara Windsor loves her gangster husband and Kenneth Williams loathes appearing in another Carry On film. Only narcissism keeps him going.

Johnson directs an excellent cast. Samantha Spiro brings a lovely directness to the Windsor character without a hint of condescension. The gangly Adam Godley is hilarious as Williams, tilting his nose in the air as he whinnies with disdain. "The thing you admire most in a woman," he sneers at Sid James, "is yourself". Geoffrey Hutchings's Sid chases women in his white polo neck and white shoes and a chat-up line about passion fruit. He delivers his philanderer's wisdom as if through a blocked nose. "Don't get married," he tells Barbara Windsor "find someone you don't like and buy them a house." A funny, affectionate play, it makes you want to see another Carry On.

After a prologue in which reporters bring us up to date with events around the Mediterranean circa 40BC ("high jinks in the shadows of the Sphinx"), Michael Bogdanov nearly sinks his production of Antony and Cleopatra with a tricksy opening scene. Mercifully his modern dress production settles down into a persuasive account of negotiations and betrayals. While Cathy Tyson's Cleopatra might have shared more of the detail of her speeches with us, Tim Woodward's bearded Antony, in khaki and dark glasses, grows in authority as his character's stripped of it.

'The Blue Room': Donmar, WC2 (0171 369 1732), to 31 Oct; 'Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick': Lyttelton, SE1 (0171 452 3000), to 28 Nov; 'Antony and Cleopatra': Salisbury Playhouse (01722 320333), to 3 Oct.

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?