Theatre: Woman on the verge of a telephone call

THIS CRITIC would queue to see Amanda Harris perform the shipping forecast. Indeed, there were moments during Take the Fire when I began to think it would have been preferable. The evening consists of four monologues by Jean Cocteau, in whose works the charlatan and the genius tantalisingly weave and dart. Unfortunately, when he composed these, the genius seems to have been en vacances.

On a bare stage and in a trim black two-piece Ms Harris begins and ends the proceedings lying full length by a silent telephone - the archetypal image of womanhood kept on humiliating hold by a two-timing bastard. Well, I say womanhood, but gay male emotion appears to have projected itself so massively on to these monologuing dames as to have the effect of virtually reducing them to a victim-complex got up in the defiant glad rags of drag.

Or rather it would, if it weren't for the warmly attractive talents of Ms Harris who is all the more moving for heightening the droll intelligence behind the pained sensual flounce and desperation. Her performance is subtly and winningly camp, only because camp is one strategy for coping with the unseen or silent men in the plays; the saving charm is that you don't feel the actress is being camp as a way of coping with that other oppressive male, Jean Cocteau. No one can flash a smile of more radiant raunch than Ms Harris or convince you that she is amusing some private part of herself as well as others.

My favourite piece was "The Dame of Monte Carlo", a ballad in syncopated rhyming couplets about a woman on the game at the gaming tables, a reckless gambler who is eventually exposed and thrust out. The other items in Paul Garrington's artfully shaded production strike me as poorer versions of other works - Le Bel Indifferent is inferior to both Cocteau's own La Voix Humain and to any number of plays in its understanding of the power relations between a couple where one does all the talking. Here, the actress- mistress hurls herself against the rock of her lover's silence. Jabbering away to diminishing returns, Ms Harris comically progresses to the tragic end of her tether via a series of spot-on theatrical impersonations - from a Tennessee Williams faded belle to a Fie, Madam beauty-spotted heroine.

All very accomplished, but as I remarked to a female colleague on the way out, it will be nice to see Amanda Harris playing a woman again.

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