This is an absurd yet hilarious production, which generates involuntary giggles and laughs from the entire audience. The interpretation of roles is up to the individual spectator, so I can here only describe a little of what happens, and then you are in the hot seat…
At the Golden Goose Theatre, the stage is arranged for a lecture, with a microphone and some stacked chairs before it — a lectern perhaps. A man in black (Euan Broughton) sits at a desk in profile. He focuses on his laptop screen and a projector, which beams a presentation onto the back wall. His right hand and index finger are extended towards the incoming audience and these only drop to his laptop once everyone is seated.
Baillie Dobson walks onstage, notes in hand, and introduces the topic with a Wikipedia definition; “A chair is a type of seat, typically designed for one person and consisting of one or more legs, a flat or slightly angled seat, and a back-rest.”
If you are here because you are fascinated by furniture and its evolution since the Neolithic Period, progressing further into the Baroque, Romantic, and Contemporary styles, or more specifically the evolution of a chair where it stands (or sat)… well then, surprisingly you are in the wrong seat! What the audience actually get – to their delight – is a comically robotic narration of a (very) brief history of chairs, followed by the most bizarre sixty minutes of entertainment.
Dobson recites data off his sheet in an automaton voice as Broughton uses his index finger to move the presentation along. No other movement is detected. Initially, we understand his tone is deliberate, creating interest in an otherwise static subject, but then he finishes with “There is nothing more powerful than the empty chair” – and walks off, leaving the audience with this cliffhanger.
The ensuing silence is broken by a chair being thrown onstage. The actor at the desk remains still. James Tudor Jones and Terry Doyle, in identical white curly wigs and moustaches — a parody of the 118 men — appear, smile, and disappear. Dobson walks back, is surprised seeing this random chair, picks it up and arranges it neatly before resuming his position at the microphone.
He repeats the presentation at a slightly faster pace. The two men appear and disappear repeatedly, each time making Dobson nervously talk faster. They reappear, but now one has a collar, while the other trails behind with a lead held taut. They approach Dobson. “Woof” Doyle says quietly.
The lack of response from the man at the desk, the clinical description of chairs, and the smug expressions of the twin men whose mannerisms resemble that of cats(?) perhaps imply that Dobson is the pet dog, having been told to ‘sit’ by the pointy finger of his human, but who is whiling away the boredom giving a talk about his favourite piece of furniture — the chair. Is this what our pets do while we are at work?
Next, the routine changes into some strange breakdance sequence, and loss of clothing. We, however, applaud Doyle’s flexibility and agility. Once these shenanigans finish, lecture mode returns and a Q&A session ensues; as absurd as the performance. One audience member dares ask, “Why chairs?” to which Dobson replies, “You knew what you were getting into…” Then, Jones – ill-disguised and amongst the audience – stands up, introducing himself as Charles Herbert Air… a.k.a. C.H.Air, to ask “Would a swing be considered a chair…?”
I left the theatre feeling ever so confused, but also knowing I had somehow enjoyed this presentation for its quirky and simplistic slapstick absurdity. I think I need a sit down now…
Directed by: James Tudor Jones and Baillie Dobson
A Brief History of Chairs has now concluded its run at the Golden Goose Theatre.