Although famous for its explicit onstage treatment of sex, David Hare's The Blue Room is a rather sang-froid study of human coupling, which is only saved from excess solemnity by a reoccurring note of world-weary cheerfulness, a note sounded to good effect in this current production by 5Pound.
Where is Hare's blue room? It is not Behind the Green Door, that's for sure. Rather, it's behind a far more mundane portal, one leading onto a shade of "blue" that speaks of frustration and melancholy more than titillation, a mood adequately suggested by Tom Waits' 'Blue Valentine"' with which this show opens.
Like links in a circular chain, the play brings together a variety of lonely men and women whose lives become joined by sex – and only sex – in bedrooms and various other darkrooms around London. Starting with a prostitute and a cabbie, let's call them A and B, we then move to a cabbie and a French maid, B and C, then a French maid and one of her employers, C and D, and so on, until we come back to where we started with the prostitute, A.
There is a kind of studied, anthropological aspect to the way in which Hare tours through these various classes of London, which can be traced directly to playwright Arthur Schnitzler, whose rather more scandalous La Ronde, on which The Blue Room is based, was intended as a quasi-scientific demonstration of the course that sexually transmitted disease might make through society.
Schnitzler also intended his play as a social critique, and it is perhaps his moralising energy that Hare's script lacks. Almost every character seems to be saying, "Oh, well. Everyone does it I suppose, so let's just get it over with."
5Pound, who, led by director Jason Cavanagh, have been settling in at the Owl and the Pussy Cat for a couple of years now, promise intimacy. And in a way that's all we get: a sense of intimacy, and not much else. As they cycle through the various males and females, Kaitlyn Clare and Zak Zavod are full of smiles and small gestures of reassurance, even as they strip down to their nothingatalls two feet from the front row. Clare shows great versatility and manages to distinguish all her characters well enough; Zavod on the other hand sometimes struggles find anything other than a generic British aloofness. He does, however, shine in a wonderful scene where he takes to the piano. Despite the small theatrette having something of a refrigerator about it, not helped by some haphazard lighting, both leads looked good – relaxed with each other and with us, the audience, loitering under their noses.
At a stretch, we might compare 5Pound to David Hare himself. Their productions are well-thought-out, resourcefully staged and well executed. It's quality pro-am theatre. But, like Hare, they seem wary of extending themselves artistically. Now that Cavanagh and co have a few strong productions in the bag, including last year's Miss Julie, they might perhaps turn away from the kind of work which seeks to reproduce mainstage plays on a shoestring budget and dare to tackle the unfamiliar.