29 September 1998 The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse
When writing a review of
The Blue Room, it's all too easy to be distracted by the on-stage presence of Nicole Kidman. Here, after all, is a Hollywood star in the flesh, baring the flesh even, oozing film quality sex appeal, sizzling on - ney, burning a continent-sized hole through the London stage. And though her acting's not bad either, most newspapers seem more concerned with discerning whether or not she really is the cellulite-free woman.
Ahh, you see how easy it is. But before getting too far down the Kidman track, perhaps we d better deal with the play. When
Arthur Schnitzler wrote his loose series of sexual scenes, Reigen, in 1900, he had no intention of them ever being publicly performed. He himself admitted that they were ‘completely unprintable . The eventual 1921 premiere in Vienna was closed down by police and performers in the first Berlin production endured a six-day trial for obscenity. It wasn't until Max Ophuls 1950 film, La Ronde, that the work gained a degree of respectability.
Unfortunately, neither notoriety nor respectability - nor even Hollywood style hype - can guarantee an interesting evening's theatre. In
David Hare s free adaptation, the sexual daisy chain is fast-forwarded to modern-day London. Kidman and co-star Iain Glen traipse across the city and the social classes as they embark on their sexual trysts - which, unfortunately for voyeurs, are blacked out and overlaid by amplified static at the penultimate moment.
The two performers portray a cast of ten characters between them. Cab driver, student, politician, playwright and aristocrat for Glen; prostitute, French au pair, married woman, model and actress for Kidman. But, though their acting ability ensures that each of the characters is highly individual, the same can't be said for the scenarios. The lies and duplicity, promises made and broken, the inevitably failed search for intimacy, happiness, love. Again and again until the chain comes full circle.
It's all just a bit too neat, too clever-clever. And far too self-referential. The actress and the playwright, for goodness sake. The continual swipes at “the press in this country” and nudge-nudge-wink-wink comments on the sexual appeal of Kidman. “Every man in the audience wants to have me on the boards,” the actress proclaims as you wonder if, underneath the makeup, Kidman is wincing.
Sam Mendes s production, as played out against Mark Thompson s minimalist neon outline of a set, is certainly slick, but where The Blue Room succeeds viscerally, it disappoints emotionally and intellectually.
And, in case you were wondering, Kidman's thighs really are an orange-peel-free area.
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