Royal Shakespeare Company alumnus Sarah Cameron writes and stars in The Red Chair, a dark and dense fairy tale about a morbidly obese man who never leaves his velvet chair and the stick-thin wife doomed to cook for him. Cameron plays five or six characters in the course of the hefty 100 minute run time, displaying a superb, turbulent energy reminiscent of Maxine Peake in Hamlet, but the script is bloated, formless and far too long for the premise, and the unyielding tone euthenises any moments of brilliance. A tasting menu can’t even alleviate the oppressive weight of this shockingly inward-looking production.
“Why would a woman conceive of such a concept?” is the line delivered by Andula when trying to riddle out the fact that her husband has just been swallowed by a chair. Cameron, as writer and actor, is both author of The Red Chair’s downfall and its saving grace. She is a full, physical performer, speaking her own stream of consciousness verse with every inch of her responsive form. She’s far too quick to let a flicker of embarrassment through when she occasionally, understandably, garbles a line, but she is a fine, forceful orchestrator of the drama, however clunky it may be.
The script has shades of Tim Crouch and Shelagh Stevenson stylistically, and feels for the most part like a pastiche of Beckett, but lacks the ringing commentary of the former and the strident mindlessness of the latter. Instead, it uses much cleverly composed, atmospheric poetry to attempt an apotheosis of a seemingly basic fable of gluttony and consumerism. It’s so convicted in its act of doing and saying something that it seems churlish to argue, but the audience appears by all accounts nonplussed and disengaged, left equally cold and in want of stimulation. Incongruous, tacked-on food interludes do nothing to provide a route in, but serve to disturb an already uncomfortable flow.
The Red Chair isn’t enjoyable, and there’s no real intrigue to be found in not enjoying it. Sarah Cameron does her best to bring finesse to her cumbersome tale, and succeeds in places – a segment where Andula lists the inventory of food in the larder is spectacularly delivered – but it’s a downhill struggle as the plot bulges in strange places and the production becomes an overworked, irrevocable deadweight.