As solo performances go, Sarah Cameron’s 100-minute monologue The Red Chair is an absolutely extraordinary one, perched on the wildest edge between theatre and storytelling, and all the more exciting for it.
The Red Chair ****
Tron Theatre, Glasgow
“Once upon a dark time, someplace in the glum north of the world…’ begins the tale, first seen on the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015; and we find ourselves plunged into a world that is part Angela Carter, part Gormenghast, and part old Scots ballad, as Cameron conjures up a wonderful, multi-layered post-modern Scots idiom in which to tell her story, through narrative and rhyme, songs and dialogue, jigs and reels, and dark meditative soliloquies.
The story is a magical one, of a beautiful couple in some Highland place – the lovely Andrula, and a handsome piper known as The Man – who find themselves cursed on their wedding day, when a beautiful red velvet chair is delivered to them, and
the man sits down on it, never to rise. He develops a monstrous appetite, growing hugely fat; she becomes his slave, forever in the kitchen trying to sate his vast appetite.
The story’s main voice, though, belongs to their one child, Queanie Athenee, known as the Inveesible Child, hidden up in her room, reading voraciously; and her tale is one of liberation, as she first rebels against her parents, then escapes with her mother
to the home of her late auntie Aphrodite, and finally achieves some kind of reconciliation with her father, now totally subsumed into the magical red chair.
It’s a remarkable tale
of all-consuming patriarchy, in other words, and of how to move beyond it, delivered by Cameron with huge storytelling vividness and flair; and although Sarah Blenkinsop’s set is wisely minimal – a plain wooden chair, a wide chalk circle on the floor – the story is supported all the way, in Suzy Willson’s production, by superb sound and music by Paul Clark, and lighting by Hansjorg Schmidt.
It’s also accompanied by cake, a tot of whisky, and other edible goodies; in a memorable ballad show that revels in its soaring, exhilarating imaginative freedom, and also, through its astonishing language, marks a vital staging-post in the reinvention of a Scottish voice in theatre – one that, after years of linguistic stasis, comes not a moment too soon.
*On tour to Inverness, Balintore and Portree this week, and across Scotland until 31 March, including the Traverse, Edinburgh, 17-18 March.