Dir. Suzy Willson, Tron Theatre, 3rd – 4th of March
Upon arrival at the theatre, the audience is offered a menu, reading: “this performance may contain nuts”, a napkin and a dram of whisky. Before even having the time to take a seat, the ballad has somehow already started. The Red Chair, or The Tale of the Man who was so Fat He Growed Into the Chair He Was Sittin’ Upon is the story of a caricatural, dysfunctional family told by the incredibly expressive Sarah Cameron, completely in Scots dialect.
The moment she opens her mouth, Cameron turns Tron’s Changing House into a proper wee “hoose”, and introduces the audience to the young married couple that inhabit it. In the middle of the completely black room lies a chair, remarkably not red, but described with so much verve that one could almost feel the red velvet. The joy of the novel spouses is disrupted by the chair as the man sits on it to “niver iver” get up again. Eleven or thirteen years later, he’s still there and somehow so insatiably hungry his poor wife is forced to spend her days cooking for him.
Between a scotch pie and a Pavlova, the audience gets to meet the couple’s daughter, the invisible child. With the simple use of light and darkness, Cameron portrays the invisible girl highlighting features of her own body. Eventually, the child reveals herself, becoming the main focus of the story as she criticises her father’s neglects and her mother’s submissiveness. Yet slowly, her relationship with her father changes, and it becomes clear that part of the dramatic beauty of The Red Chair lies in the daughter’s character, from her thoughts to her development throughout the ballad.
Accompanied by a beautiful score by Paul Clark, and with no props other than the chair, the ballad and its characters truly come to life: surrounding the narrator and performer while at the same time being embodied by her. While the Scots dialects might at first be considered a language barrier, the musicality of the script and Cameron’s expressivity overcome this completely. Told in the simplest and cosiest of environments, as every ballad should, with a dram of whisky and a piece of sponge cake, The Red Chair literally glues the audience to their chair.