The Red Chair is an original piece of writing performed and authored by Sarah Cameron. It’s a two-hour magical realist narrative – telling the story of a glutton’s adventure through food and subsequent transmutation into a chair.
There’s a lot to like. The text, in rich Dundee dialect, is rhythmic and strange – combining comic touches with a landscape that is otherwise darkly surreal. The staging is intimate – a single chalk circle and a chair – and is complimented by an eerie ambient soundtrack and innovative lighting design, as tiny pockets of light frame body parts and cast baleful shadows. Cameron’s performance is similarly sparing and controlled – alternating between direct address and enactment; in the latter case, translating meandering, descriptive passages into mime and movement. All of this is full of promise, and yet The Red Chair still feels lacking.
There’s one obvious explanation for its failure to impact: for a fairly slender narrative, Cameron’s performance is far too long at two hours (and without a proper interval). A more discreet issue, though fundamental, is Cameron’s performance. Whilst clearly skilled – both physically and vocally – her storytelling feels oddly dislocated. The most successful moments come when the houselights are up and she talks on equal terms with the audience. Elsewhere it all feels a little forced, a little grandiloquent.
The Red Chair demonstrates the risks of conflating the roles of writer and performer: the subtlety and freshness that comes with watching an actor’s interpretation of a text are missing from this production, and the result is a curiously declamatory performance of an otherwise intriguing text.