Clod Ensemble, in association with Fuel, bring us The Red Chair – a tale full to the brim of folklore and popular culture; a ballad that trips along into surreal realms. Sarah Cameron is both the writer and performer of the piece. She has the diaphragm of an opera singer and the diction of an over-articulate school teacher, propelling us through the two-hour piece with the quaint trills of a Scots dialect.
Cameron’s voice captures the alliterative, sometimes-rhyming, always chiming poetry and prose with astonishing dexterity and stamina. She breezes through tongue twisting lists of foods devoured by the gigantic man who has become the chair at the centre of the story. We get to consume some of these too – there are little breaks in the second half for little cakes, dates and a tipple of whisky. I think these were widely appreciated, although having been given a Tasting Menu, they feel a long time coming by the time we are finally served.
The story of a dutiful wife tied to her gluttonous husband, and their entirely abandoned ‘inviiisable’ daughter, lacked amusement and emotion. Cameron morphs into each character. It is too long; by the end the almost continuos monologue has become monotonous, especially with no interval to break midway. The storytelling drags without the diversity of characterisation or conflict required to compel us through.
“The Red Chair lies somewhere between a Grimms’ Tale, an absurdist ghost story and a parent’s guide on how not to bring up children.” – Clod Ensemble
The thing is – it doesn’t have the really good stuff of any of those things. It doesn’t have the anarchism, darkness and grotesquery of a fairy tale like The Red Shoes; the absurdity of Beckett; the scariness of The Woman in Black; or the clear instruction of a modern fable. Although, instead of being parenting advice, it might just be a metaphoric piece on the state of capitalist patriarchy. The greedy patriarch consumes expansively and exponentially, making his wife subservient and his daughter invisible. Sound familiar?
A minimalist set – consisting of a salt circle with a plain chair in the centre – allows the audience to fixate on the language play. Cameron’s vocal antics and the little treats are really the production’s star attractions. Apart from the outstanding vocal innovations, though, The Red Chair does not quite meet the expectations set by the storytelling tradition.
The Red Chair – which I attended at Canada Water Culture Space – is currently touring until June 2015. More information on the Clod Ensemble website. Photo: Manuel Vason