Review by Carol Middleton
Published Jan 03 - www.stateart.com.au
The Blue Room
Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre
Wed 15 January 03
The opening night of The Blue Room at the Playhouse in Melbourne was a very different experience from most Melbourne Theatre Company premieres. The usual A-list guests and jaded critics (myself among them) were outnumbered by the bold and the beautiful, eager to see what all the fuss was about.
The buzz gave way to hushed expectation when the play began, which became palpable whenever Sigrid Thornton started to undo her buttons. The audience seemed much quicker than usual to pick up on the nuances, pre-empt the jokes and break into laughter at the slightest provocation. And there was plenty of that – humour, that is, as well as sex.
The Blue Room is a highly entertaining comedy. After all, sex is funny, not only physically, but psychologically. The use of two fine physical specimens, Thornton and Marcus Graham, to play all the roles makes the sex less funny physically – aesthetically they present a very pretty picture - than psychologically.
Although the nature of the subject matter requires some nudity, Thornton has been keen to downplay its importance. She is in fact a master of sleight of body, concealing while revealing by clever positioning. The result was erotic and therefore appropriate, although wrapping herself in the doona at one point when she jumped out of bed seemed rather absurd.
Marcus Graham, on the other hand, revelled in throwing caution to the winds, both in his acting and his nudity. What a delight to see an actor relish this great opportunity to play multiple roles in a two-hander production. He morphed from London cabbie to awkward upper crust English youth to egomaniacal Scottish playwright with bold brushstrokes of characterisation, lightning changes of physical mannerisms and a huge vocal range. However flamboyant his acting, it was highly controlled, with great attention to detail, and a refined sense of timing that enabled him to finish a scene with a flourish and procure a laugh from the audience.
Thornton responded with energy to the challenge of playing multiple roles, from young London hooker to French au pair (one of my favourites), to uptight married woman to overblown actress, using a range of physical styles and accents. Physically, she was magnetic. Vocally, at times she lacked power and variety. Her English accents were good, but her Irish rather uneven and hard to follow. Her real strength was in sustaining the sexual tension throughout the play, in interacting so powerfully with Graham to create the humour and pathos of their encounters.
The simple but effective sets by Stephen Curtis, illumined by Matt Scott’s mostly dark and often blue lighting, rolled smoothly out from the back of the stage for each scene. At each side of the stage, a cubicle with glass and mirrors served as a changing room and warm-up space for the new characters to emerge – a device that worked brilliantly. The sets themselves were furnished with the basic items needed for sex – usually a bed, alternatively a bench, of the park or kitchen variety. The two actors then went to town with these basics to create a whole new world in each of the ten scenes, moving around the set, high and low, to create character and situation. It was a fine feat of direction (by Simon Phillips) and physical acting.
Thornton was rarely still – maybe she was relishing the chance to move away from the understatement of the screen actor – and was an enticing target for the man. The dim lighting, however, did not make the most of one of her main assets, her famous face. In the only scene that was brightly lit, set in the green room of a theatre where Thornton is the actress receiving her admirer, we see the vibrant face fully lit, and her character immediately takes on a new, more powerful dimension.
The Blue Room could equally well have been called The Green Room, as acting and the theatre is one of the subtexts of the play. Like any good comedy, there are jokes that put down a good cross-section of those on and off stage - in this case actors, writers, politicians and journalists. Considering its genesis in a play written in 1900, the play is decidedly contemporary in its feel. The music, scored by Iain Grandage, that takes us from one scene to the next is mostly brash, upbeat and very familiar.
The Blue Room is ostensibly a lightweight play, but has interesting layers of psychology that reflect our own sex lives and relationships. This guarantees its popularity, possibly well into the future. The MTC production makes for excellent entertainment, and we all left with a smile on our faces.
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