Blue play is chic, not shocking

First Night: The Blue Room Donmar Warehouse London

THE ONE thing you cannot do when reviving a 98-year-old play is to recreate the shock of the new. Even Scotland Yard's vice squad is unlikely to mimic the Vienna police who closed down the first public performance in 1921 of Arthur Schnitzler's Reigen, here retitled The Blue Room, and prosecuted him for obscenity.

If there is any unusual frisson to Sam Mendes's breathlessly chic new production it isn't because of the frank depiction of dangerous liaisons, but because of the casting. The play's ten roles of coupling couples are played by two actors - Iain Glenn and Nicole Kidman.

In the opening scene Kidman is waiflike and scrawny, looking startling like a Nineties rethink of Twiggy with vowels to match. She's chatted up by Glenn's cocksure cab driver who refuses to pay for her services as he's "just spent the lot on sushi". Nonetheless, they have sex there and then.

The play is a carefully contrived daisy-chain of brief encounters. The second scene sees the cab-driver luring an au-pair into having sex at a party. Cut to the au-pair playing not-so-hard-to-get with the nervous son of smart employers. Then the son steals time with a politician's wife ... and so it goes on.

We see the lust, the leading-on, the luring, but not the act. Everything cuts to blackout and is wittily followed by the timing of the act being flashed up on the back wall. Given the often wildly mismatched pairings, it's not surprising that these range between hours and, funniest of all, the zero seconds of premature ejaculation.

It is no surprise that this updated and very free adaptation comes from David Hare. Glenn plays Hare's men as increasingly removed and feckless or, as with the deliciously played romantic playwright, supremely self- absorbed.

By contrast Kidman's superbly differentiated gallery of women - from skittish, deer-like prostitute to an hilariously grand, throaty actress - all turn out to be victims.

For all the production's sheer wit and beautifully played brio you cannot escape the sensation that we've been here before.

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