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The Chair Women

By Werner Schwab (Translated by David T Hale)
Scarlet Theatre
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
(2004)

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Audiences would be well advised to make sure they're well-rested before going into Traverse 2 to see The Chair Women - otherwise, the seventy minute setup for the play's fifteen minute payoff may have them comatose before the point of the play is reached.

The Chair Women is a play which has us watching three women (friends? acquaintances?) sitting in front of a television set. Erna (Jasmina Daniel), Grete (Joanna Brookes) and Mariedl (Grainne Byrne) talk about the three constants in their lives: men, God, and human excrement. Meanwhile, three "actresses" and a couple of camera ops seem to follow the movements of the three women with grotesque attention to detail. But those watching the cameras and screens carefully will quickly realize that only two of the four cameras are actually involved with the actions of the performers - the other two are slowly sweeping the audience, though until the end of the play we don't discover exactly what they're filming.

The biggest fault of The Chair Women is that its three main characters provoke no sympathy from the viewer (in many cases, they seemed to provoke no reaction at all for a large portion of the show). Erna, Grete, and Mariedl fail to get us on their side; nothing about them makes the audience feel for the situations they describe. This failure is deadly in any work of drama, but here it makes The Chair Women an ordeal to be suffered through rather than just a boring night.

Director Katarzyna Deszcz discusses, in the programme, how The Chair Women gives the company the opportunity to investigate life in the age of reality television, but aside from the last fifteen minutes - in which the already caricatured performances are further aped by Abbey Norman, Dulcie Lewis, and Nina Fog, played back to footage (which signs let us know will immediately be wiped) of various audience members sleeping, talking, and looking mind-numbingly bored - the investigation feels more like watching the live feed of Big Brother, and then the edited prime time half-hour - only the live feed is even more tedious and the edited version is just plain nonsensical.

The Chair Women might be enjoyed by masochists and reality TV junkies (and is there really a difference?) but anyone looking for an entertaining or thought-provoking night out is better off watching back episodes of The Simpsons.

Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody