Set ‘someplace in the glum north o’the warld’, The Red Chair is a tale of extremes, exploring themes of gluttony and patriarchy. The performance is told from the perspective of three central characters and focuses on their dysfunctional relationship – a cursed Man who grows into a red velvet chair and is unable to stop eating, his poor wife Andrula who cooks all of his meals and their ‘inveesible child’, isolated in her room. Sarah Cameron’s captivating solo performance balances between a twisted fairytale and dark reality.
The mythical tale is told in a rich Scottish dialect. Although somewhat strange and unfamiliar to begin with, its poetic, almost musical qualities become an integral part of the performance and its pace. At times disturbing in subject matter, the haunting narrative is intertwined with moments of humour and wit, which are well received by the audience. The dramatic tension is enhanced throughout by the music, composed by Paul Clark. The combination of bagpipes and string quartet flows effortlessly with the rhythmic monologue. This suggests a romantic celebration of Scotland and storytelling traditions, reflecting Dundee-born Cameron’s upbringing.
Cameron’s performance is truly mesmerizing, as she transports the audience into a surreal dystopia in this innovative piece of modern theatre. Based on Cameron’s original book, The Red Chair evokes rich, powerful imagery through both the narrative and physical performance, directed by Suzy Willson. Cameron’s fine art background is visible in her vivid, hyper-descriptive narrative, giving a beautifully artistic dimension to the performance. The extremeness of language is particularly present surrounding the themes of food and feasting, which are associated simultaneously with pleasure and an obsession that inevitably leads to destruction.
The minimal set and props, just a wooden chair and a large chalk circle on the floor, make for an intimate and immersive performance. The blurring of the boundaries between the performance and audience is reinforced by the edible treats and whisky handed out at three intervals during the show, adding a sensory aspect and providing ‘tastes of the land’. These are the only moments Cameron breaks away from her flawless 100-minute monologue. The audience is made to feel part of the imaginative tale and invested in the outcome of events.