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 Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'