David Hare’s The Blue Room follows ten sexual encounters between ten couples in ten scenes. One character from each scene is in the next scene, so that A sleeps with B who sleeps with C who sleeps with ... until we get right back to A. There is no plot, as such, and we don’t follow any one character through more than two scenes. We don’t even know how long elapses between the scenes – it could be hours, or years.
What drives the play forward is the contrast between what a character says and does in the two scenes. As we watch one scene unfold we come to realise that the next is likely to invert what we think we know about each character. Sometimes this is conventional – it’s not such a step from the married politician lecturing his wife on how happy they are to him having drug-fuelled sex with a young and vulnerable model. And yet in the model’s next scene she has moments of genuine tenderness with a writer lover who, almost casually, announces there will be no affair. The writer’s own emotional vulnerability surfaces in the next scene, and so on.
It may sound mechanical, or overly pessimistic about relationships, yet in the hands of director Ian Forrest and assistant director Mary Papadima, and a very talented young cast, this is an enthralling production full of heart. Matt Hall’s sound design makes the most of the musical interludes in and between scenes, allowing the audience to connect the action to songs we know and love.
Designer Elizabeth Wright gives us a minimal uncluttered space compactly serving the action. And the cast of three are very good indeed. Polly Lister is utterly convincing as a bored married woman, a famous actress, and a ‘girl’ desperate for money. Olivia Mace’s au pair and model are worlds apart. Matt Addis carries the play playing all five men and appearing in every scene. The play, by not showing the actual ‘sex’ in these sexual encounters, allows us to focus on its many contexts in human terms. This cast gives you deep, sexy, sad, rude, reflective, desperate, angry and funny, flashpoints of erotic intensity and pauses worthy of Harold Pinter.
Unconventional in many ways, The Blue Room is a marvellous and intimate production of a play about all kinds of intimacy, body and soul.