the red chair performance 2015-2017

When we gather to share stories we meet each others gaze - we connect, we engage, we transform and heal, we see ourselves reflected back in all our complexity and ragged earthiness, our common humanity revealed and shared. We feel empathy and forgiveness. We laugh.                                                                     

sarah cameron, disclaimer magazine


★★★★ The Scotsman

Sarah Cameron’s 100-minute monologue The Red Chair is an absolutely extraordinary one, perched on the wildest edge between theatre and a memorable ballad-show that revels in its soaring, exhilarating imaginative freedom,

'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.


★★★★The Sunday Herald

MUCH has been said and written about the crucial role played by the Scottish storytelling tradition. During the centuries when theatre was either prohibited by the Calvinist Reformation or recovering, slowly, from that stern proscription, the telling of tales sustained our culture's connection to language in performance.

It is to that rich history that one's mind turns on encountering The Red Chair, writer and performer Sarah Cameron's remarkable dramatic monologue. First performed in 2015, and revived now for an extensive Scottish tour, this self-described "faerytale" is written and performed in a deep, lush Scots-English.

Simultaneously contemporary and timeless, it tells the tale of a wealthy young man (Godwin Moir Williamson Caractacus) who, following his marriage, becomes so obese that he cannot rise from his chair. Growing into the seat, he literally becomes part of the furniture.

As he does so, the life of his long-suffering wife Andrula is subsumed by his morbid appetite. Extremely slender, on account of her growing revulsion at food, she is a slave to her husband's gargantuan demands.

The story is told by an eloquent third-person narrator and in the desolate-yet-poetic prose of Godwin's neglected daughter, Queanie (aka "The Inveesible Child"). In time, mother and daughter become bound together in their powerful resentment of the corpulent authoritarian.

What transpires next is best discovered either in attending one of Cameron's performances or in reading the published text (an adaptation of Cameron's original story co-authored by Suzy Willson and Cameron herself). Suffice it to say that it is the kind of Scots-Gothic tale that might have emerged from a collaboration between Robert Burns and Edgar Allan Poe.

Performed over a brilliantly sustained 90 minutes (which includes brief interludes for samples from Godwin's larder), the piece is a masterclass in monodrama. Cameron's not only a startlingly evocative facility with language, but also a tremendous capacity in physical and facial expression.

Whether she is describing Godwin's burgeoning rotundity or evoking Queanie's stark hopelessness, the performer uses language, space and body with an expertise that is utterly compelling.

The use of sound, music and lighting is (for the most part) beautifully attuned to both text and performance. The "inveesibility" of Queanie, for example, is illustrated in Cameron being only partially illuminated on a pitch black stage; at one point, we see only her mouth, as if the actor were performing Beckett's famous monologue, Not I.

The only slight lapse in judgement comes late on in the performance, when the story turns to the international news coverage of the strange case of the disappearance of the very fat man. A short moment, in which we hear the recorded chatter of 24-hour news media, creates a distracting breach in the show's otherwise perfectly-sustained atmosphere.

Such a complaint seems almost cavilling, however, given the general excellence of this superb, highly distinctive dramatic monologue. Produced by the London-based Clod Ensemble, this Scottish tour is a very welcome celebration of the Scots tongue, storytelling and theatrical performance itself.


★★★★★ Argus Angel Award Winner, Brighton Festival 2015

If Wes Anderson were to turn his hand to epic poetry he would have produced something like this… a deliciously surreal tale of laziness, gluttony, dereliction of parental duty and, in the end, love.

But Sarah Cameron had got there already with her fantasmagorical, exuberant, bumptious, naughty, wild and woolly (I mean of the tartan variety) deliciously surreal tale of laziness, gluttony, dereliction of parental duty and, in the end, love.

Part Brothers Grimm, part Norse saga, The Red Chair was told entirely in exhilarating and knowing Scots dialect, and every word was as toothsome as a toasted teacake.

Cameron sculpted an irresistible, modern fairytale world, a world where a man could sit down in his favourite chair and never get up again, honeymooners travelled by Zeppelin (what else?) and long-lost parents in fox furs were dispatched by way of a railway-bridge collapse in a couple of lines.

Alone on a bare stage (save for a circle and a chair) Cameron performed with breathtaking bravura, not to mention endurance: the ballad was nearly two hours in the reciting, supported here and there by Paul Clark’s atmospheric, sinewy score, a couple of rounds of snacks and a valedictory whisky.

Buy the book and devour it at home. A story never tasted so good.

Eleanor Knight

★★★★★ The Edinburgh Guide

Over the 100 minute performance, broken only by brief pauses for nibbles that include a madeleine cake, a medjool date, Valrhona chocolate and a dram of whisky (all sourced from local suppliers), Dundee born artist Sarah Cameron brings to life her salutary tale of sloth, greed and the tragedy of joie de vivre being mastered by slavish daily grind.

In an unnamed country ‘someplace in the glum north o’ the warld’, a vital and handsome young couple of Nordic origins get married and go on a world tour honeymoon. On their return, they open an unwrapped present and find inside the paper and string a French made red velvet chair so fantastical and sumptuous that The Man, Godwin Caractacus, sits in it never to rise again. Like Jack Spratt and his Wife in reverse, he turns from a turquoise eyed handsome devil to a lazy, gluttonous ingrate while his blooming bride, Andrula, turns drudge as the life is sucked from her till she is ‘skinny as a bit o’ string’. Gradually he and his chair become one and pronounced ‘man and chair’.

Behind the scenes of this marital horror, there is Queanie, the ‘inveesible’ child who appears only as a beam of light on Cameron’s face as she speaks her words. It is Queanie in her removed position who finally allows resolution and closure as she moves on in her lighthouse life.

A plain wooden chair sat within a circle of salt is the only prop used by Cameron. She soars through her beautifully enunciated cornucopia of Scots, peppered with French, in a bold and feminine voice. Barefoot and dressed in a black Japanese style pinafored look, Cameron uses techniques from her Jacques Lecoq training, like her precise and compact expression of the firm of solicitors, in this mammoth narration of her luxuriant prose poem. Her outpouring of linguistic riches is delivered with assurance incorporating among it the rhythm of street song, wider literary references and a litany of food starting with Scottish terroir as Godwin’s catalogue of consumption is listed. When it comes to redemption for this hideous man, she steps out to remind the audience directly that she holds authority over the story with the words 'This is My Book!'

The original score for bagpipes (sorry no credit) and string quartet from Paul Clark adds discreet but apposite sounds to this surreal, elaborate ballad of exquisite, scunnersome grotesquery made powerful in Cameron’s mouth and at her hand. A tour de force brawly spoken!


★★★★ The List

“A glorious gutful of grotesques is served up for macabre delectation in Sarah Cameron’s masterful folk tale, told in Auld Scots with a petite soupcon of French. Cameron is a truly mesmerising performer, standing seemingly in a circle of Hell, wild eyes flashing as she spits out rapid fire lyrics limericks and tongue twisting prose like pips.”

★★★★ The Times
"The compelling Cameron, like all the best storytellers, weaves a kind of spell around those who have gathered to listen to her."

Exeunt Interview with Suzy and Paul (excerpt)

"For Suzy, while she has been working with dancers for the past five years, she says it has been refreshing to return to her roots in Jacques Lecoq – a grounding that her and Sarah share. It is due to this training that they are driven by the idea that everything moves, and language has its own movement dynamic. As Suzy describes of Sarah’s own practice, “It’s unusual that writers have got such a physical vocabulary, or a kind of three dimensional, visceral embodied sense of the world. Because she understands movement so well, and form in space, the way she uses language feels like it’s full of movement, and there’s something three dimensional about it, so we think of it as a sculpture in words.” Trying to describe the movement of language in words is complex, if not simply ironic, and takes me back to the image of Russian dolls. They explain that it has to be seen.

The novel, which will be published by Methuen in time for the show, includes illustrations drawn by Sarah’s own hand. So how does she portray these in the performance? “She’s kind of telling the story, but she also illustrates the story. But she doesn’t draw them on stage, she is the illustrations, if you like.” herein lies another layer of genre – is it the embodiment of a novel? Is it illustration in physical form? This is precisely why Clod Ensemble’s work is so exciting, and why – I feel – they must continue to defy being pigeon-holed.

Suzy shows me a couple of illustrations from the book and they are incredibly unique and beautiful. One of them is of the red chair, whose legs are carved into the shape of a phoenix. Paul tells me that this is a significant motif, and it is clear that it is, on more than one level: not only does the story confront the daughter’s journey to reconcile herself and rise from the ashes of a troublesome upbringing, but it also represents a question about how things are made. We laugh about the habits and quirks we inherit from our parents, genetically or otherwise, and Suzy admits, “I think this as I’m getting older – how much I resemble my parents. And I think in this, even though Queenie is somehow rejecting something about her parents, she also carries them with her, forever, whether they’re alive or dead."

In terms of Sarah’s own process, she describes the story as a romantic remembrance of her upbringing in Scotland. There is a certain perspective that distance from your childhood home affords, and that undoubtedly most of us can relate to, and it is in capturing that essence of Scotland that Paul’s music is a defining element. But most significantly, she wrote the novel while she was pregnant with her first child. To become a mother is a metamorphosis all of its own, at which point the inevitability of turning into your own mother surely becomes all the more prevalent. And indeed, Paul says, “You can’t run away from these things you inherit.” As much as we want change, and the characters want change, there are certain mainstays that become part of the furniture, as it were. Although you may rise from the ashes, you will only rise as another phoenix."

The Red Chair's first outing was at The Port Eliot Literary Festival as part of House of Fairytales. From November 2015 to April 2016 The Red Chair toured the UK (London shows at Soho Theatre, Stratford Circus and Canada Water Culture Space; The Edinburgh Festival (Summerhall) and Brighton Festival (Dome Studio) - where The Red Chair won an Argus Angel Award - as well other rural and city venues; in March 2017 The Red Chair toured Scotland. Performances include: The Tron Glasgow, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, Theatre Royal Dumfries, The Dundee Rep and far-flung village halls from Gairloch to Balintore via Skye and Ullapool (to mention a few).

the red chair is a clod ensemble production in association with fuel theatre

written and performed by sarah cameron
directed by suzy willson music by paul clark
designed by
sarah blenkinsop

the red chair trailer by manuel vason
photos with special thanks to manuel vason 

The Red Chair, 
A Surreal Ballad tellin a brutal tale o' 
A Man who canna stop eating, 
A Wife doom'd to cook his grub
An' high in her garret, one Inveesible Girl.

Telt in rich Scots brogue
wi' physical verve to boot, 
musical wit pirlin' aboot
like mist ower muntain tops 
- a dram of whisky to oil the route, 
The Red Chair sits someway atween 
A Ghostly Yairn, 
A Grimm Tale, An Epic Poem
An' a warning
on how youse shoudna' upbring yer we'ans.

Buy the text of  The Red Chair

The Red Chair Scotland Tour March 2017 :
Tron Theatre Glasgow              

Eden Court Inverness               

Seaboard Centre Balintore AROS Isle of Sky

Macphail Centre Ullapool
Gairloch Hall Gairloch  

Graignish Village Hall  Ardfern                             

Traverse Theatre Edinburgh    

Theatre Royal Dumfries            

Dundee Rep Dundee 

In 2015 The Red Chair played:

Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival Bournemouth  
The Lowry Salford Quays Manchester 
All Stretton Village Hall
Hatch Beauchamp Village Hall
Corby Cube Corby 
The Birmingham Rep Birmingham 
Summerhall Edinburgh Festival

Stratford Circus Arts Centre London

Dome Studio Brighton

Malvern Cube Malvern 
Live At Lica Lancaster

Soho Theatre London

Canada Water Culture Space London

Lakeside Theatre Colchester

Northern Stage Newcastle

Turner Contemporary Margate