Mini-review – The Red Chair – Clod Ensemble at Canada Water Cultural Space

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The first thing you need to know is how to get to Canada Water Cultural Space, and, as it was a new venue for me, I’m going to share this information (assuming you won’t know) with you: take the exit from the station that says it’s for the shopping center, and turn immediately LEFT and walk in the library. It’s very easy to get distracted by the beautiful lake stretching into the distance (for so it seemed at night) and the lovely path leading away from the station, but don’t go that way, certainly not if you’re in search of something to eat: the shops shut at seven and you’ll be thrust back into the night even further from your destination. Fortunately, the Canada Water Cultural Center has a little coffee shop (tea, coffee, cakes, wine) and is a very nice place to wait for a show. I also found out about a bunch of exciting events they’re running in conjunction with an event called Cityreads, which are centered around a book I love, Rivers of London.

But on to the show. I glanced really quickly at the description of The Red Chair, and somehow interpreted that the show was about eating disorders and set in Scotland. But really, it’s a modern day fairy tale told in grand prose style, the words a mix of the richest skimmings of the English language rolled in a crunchy Scots dialect, enough for you to taste the Highlands in every slice. (I found the text soaring right by me at times, which was frustrating, but I love language, and in these situations you learn and you roll with it and now and then you hear a new word and decide you actually know what it means and you like it better than any extant replacement.) It’s told by one woman, Sarah Cameron (the author), and I was so surprised when I realized I’d basically signed up for a story telling night by the virtual fire that I didn’t know what to think or feel for quite some time. I mean, really, it was like being locked in the car of a total stranger and suddenly finding you’d been taken on a roadtrip with only the contents of your purse to get by for a week. Where were we going? Did we get to have pitstops? And … what was that strange noise coming from the engine?

As it settled in, it began to feel more like “Jabberwocky” meets James’ Joyces’ Ulysses, only with Robert Burns taking the wheel. I surrendered to the logic of fairy tales – for that is what “The Red Chair” is, a world where no one ever has to go to the toilet – and let the words continue washing over me. A long list of comestibles passed by like a string of Baroque churches on the Las Vegas strip; a sudden spotlight gave me a chance to meet a third character: still, I had no idea where we were going.

Then, out of nowhere, an outrageous fourth pseudo-character emerged, rather like the unexpected appearance of the Mormon Tabernacle in the otherwise flat streets of Salt Lake City. What in the hell was going on? And why were we being handed, of all things, utterly perfect madeleines? Was there some kind of secret Proustian undertones to it all that I had completely missed? And WHAT ABOUT THE DATES? (I didn’t have any questions about the whiskey we were served later. It was just obviously right at that moment.)

In the end, I felt like I had undergone a sort of transformation along with the speaker (and the characters): we had taken a long journey and all of us had ended up in a different place and with a different view on life (and death). Cameron managed to keep the momentum going well both in her story and its telling, no mean feat for a two hour, one person show. If I were to change anything about it, I’d probably ask for more food more regularly: something about a long drive just makes me hungry. And I desperately wanted to get out of my chair, we’ll say “to stretch my legs,” for reasons I’ll let you imagine but which had everything to do with the text and nothing to do with the elusive mid-show rest break. Recommended for fans of fairy-tales and language play alike, this show was what every dark panto wishes was at its heart.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. It is done at this venue but continues at Lakeside Theatre, Colchester, the Turner Contemporary in Margate, and the Brighton Fringe among other places.)

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