Fringe Festivals always have an ability to turn unexpected places into performance spaces, often barely disguising their former lives. In the case of the Urban Spaceman Vintage, a retro clothing store being used for the Adelaide Fringe Festival, little has been done to hide the daytime shopping. Clothes hang on rails, a changing room and a large counter space are visible; they all give the signs of a retail shop, which is why it seems a curious thing to find 5pounds’s The Blue Room by David Hare here. Offering a site-specific performance, the promise of The Blue Room is apparent from the word go but it is never fully realised.
Gathered outside the Urban Spaceman Vintage we watch as, lit by red strip lighting, Kaitlyn Clare teases us within the window, blowing on the glass and tracing love hearts. Her stare is lustful and unavoidable, we’re caught by her luscious looks and body. From here we’re told that at times we’ll be asked to move around the space (I can’t help but think that doing both site-specific and promenade is a challenge for any theatre company!) and I’m intrigued. Inside the shop we sit upon chairs that spread the length of the space, seductive rituals begin and we watch as Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod slowly work their way through Hare’s play. As a continuous duologue that sees ten couples come together and tear themselves apart through lust and sex, Hare’s play is every bit sexy and seductive, offering men and women who fall repeatedly into the traps that sex can spring.
There’s plenty of nudity on show as Clare and Zavod bare all, and in the intimate space there’s no hiding from the audience. I mention the nudity to give a sense of the intimacy that The Blue Room had in this space. It’s as if you can feel the heat and sweat from intercourse rubbing up against you, or at least you should do. The problem with 9pounds’s piece is it never fully gives you what you desire. Promising to be something tantalising and seductive it is ultimately dull and tiring. That’s not to say that Clare and Zavod are not captivating as performers, that’s far from the truth, but we are never compelled to care: we spectate, we move when told, but for what purpose? There’s so much to take from Hare’s writing – a look at relationships, at the feminine versus the masculine, at our obsession with sex – but these are never addressed, never challenged.
The Blue Room feels as if director Jason Cavanagh has enjoyed the challenges of working with Hare’s text with two capable performers, but he does little to interrogate it. Equally I found myself yearning to be elsewhere. For me it doesn’t offer anything new, no great metaphor that we can cling onto. It feels distinctly false, the performance layered over the top instead of being fully integrated into the mechanics of a shop. I wanted the characters to emerge from the shop fittings, to wrap themselves in the clothes on the rails and to sell their bodies as if they were items to be purchased. Instead, Hare’s text seems lost within the darkness of Cavanagh’s direction. There are moments that flicker with excitement, but these feel extinguished as the text is dragged through the 90 minutes of performance time.
If anything, I think 9pounds’s The Blue Room shows the importance of knowing why you’re doing a site-specific piece in the first instance. Regardless of festival context, space defines a theatre piece and it shouldn’t be ignored. Perhaps I’m missing something from Cavanagh’s direction, but with all the tempestuous love making and characters that fling themselves repeatedly upon each other, I found it all quite tiring. Theatre should be like sex, and, whether it is good or bad, it should at least leave you feeling something afterwards. The Blue Room however left me empty.
The Blue Room is playing at the Adelaide Fringe Festival at the Urban Spaceman Vintage until 2 March. For more information and tickets see the Adelaide Fringe website.