The scene: two park benches, a litterbin and a prostitute nervously smoking on a cheap cigarette. The action: a cab driver walks by, and then back again, and then back another time, finally posing the question: "What are you doin' 'ere?" The prostitute replies, and before you've got comfy in your seat, they're having sex - and it's decidedly not making love - in the middle of the stage.
So starts a play that focuses on the basic human need for companionship - forbidden or otherwise - and how a variety of people go about acquiring it. From politician's wife to playwright, from student to model: little by little, an intriguing picture of class divides and physical desire becomes clear. No matter how rich, how talented or how ordinary, all the characters are bound by the same animal instincts and needs.
The Blue Room is based on Arthur Schnitzler's play Reigen (later filmed as La Ronde) which premiered in 1912 in Vienna, created a scandal and was quickly banned. Hare reclaimed and modernised the piece for a 1998 Donmar Warehouse production, starring Iain Glen and Nicole Kidman, in which the actress was famously dubbed "theatrical Viagra".
Here the two-hander becomes a four-hander, care of Andrina Carroll, Malcolm Scates, Katherine Kelly and James Garnon. Though less demanding, this set-up still requires each to swap between multiple roles, which they do well.
But while Hare's script is gripping for many reasons, plot is not one of them - there simply isn't one. As a result, proceedings are at best predictable. Co-directors Lucy Pitman-Wallace and Damian Cruden have said in the programme notes that their objective here is to "recreate the shock felt" when the play was originally written at the turn of the last century. To that end, they're successful enough in the first 20 minutes, but thereafter, you've got the point, and once you have, only the play's ironic humour keeps it alive.
Overall, I'd say that the Theatre Royal's Blue Room is successful in its way. But if you're looking for a bit more than sex, sex, sex, this is not the one for you. It certainly didn't hold my interest.
- John Pybus