The Red Chair, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Clod Ensemble in association with Fuel
Sarah Cameron (writer), Suzy Willson (director), Paul Clark (music), Sarah Blenkinsop (design), Hansjorg Schmidt (lighting), Sophie Tetlow (technical stage manager).
Sarah Cameron
Running time

Fairy tales are full of food, or rather, full of the lack of it. There’s often an obsessive yearning for food, born of starvation or desire, and the moment that hunger is finally satisfied marks a pivotal moment, a turning point, in the story.

In Sarah Cameron’s The Red Chair, a newly-married couple unwrap the gift of a sumptuous red chair – from whence or whom nobody knows – and when the groom sits, he can’t get out and all he craves is to eat and eat and eat.

Inverting the usual tale’s trajectory, the day the man’s hunger is not satisfied, the day his wife is laid up and can cook no more, is the fateful day when everything changes. Mostly for the better, not forgetting we are still in the midst of a freakish fantasy.

The life of the chair is the heart of the story: it controls the man, who controls the wife, who between them manage to ignore their ‘miracle’ child, named after her state which is ‘Inveesible’. (Well in fairy tales children may be either eaten or abandoned for the want of food so she perhaps should count herself lucky.)

This powerful one-woman monologue is written and performed in a Scots dialect. Scripts are available to buy in the Traverse foyer but like Beckett or poetry, these words beg to be spoken aloud, to be heard rather than read. The language is important, evoking a sense, an aura, that is and is not of this time and this place.

The performance space is marked by a white circle drawn on the floor, Cameron being deliberate about the moments when she is within and without it. The ‘Red Chair’ is only a plain wood, Cameron’s clothes baggy and black and this simplicity serves to draw attention to the complexity and density of the language.

This is necessary as, beautiful, magnetic, mesmerising and poetic as this piece is, it is a challenge to hang on to every word for the full one hundred minutes. Drifting slightly astray, wandering occasionally from the given path is not only the fault of fairy tale characters.

There are welcome intermissions of bawdy, crude and wry humour and, as the ‘Tasting Menu’ programme informs, interludes of freshly baked madeleines, medjool dates, single malt whisky, and dark chocolate are passed around at their awaited moment. It’s a performance of great riches that at times unfortunately feels like a glut.

17 and 18 March at 8pm

Read Irene Brown's Fringe review of The Red Chair