Review by Sam Waite
Certain subjects are so fascinating, of such universal interest, that their inclusion as the central thesis of a keynote address makes perfect sense. These are the histories so rich, so varied in their application, that the world needs to hear what an esteemed expert on the subject has to say. The keynote speech documented in Broken Record Theatre’s play A Brief History of Chairs, playing a brief run at the Golden Goose… is something else entirely.
Dr Baillie Dobson, played by regular Baillie Dobson, is closing out a conference with the findings of his extensive research in chairology. The presentation, well-delivered and covering centuries of developments, rapidly changes as altered slides and increasingly peculiar stage-crashers derail Dr Dobson’s keynote address. Not long after a Q&A segment, Dobson is driven to madness, and so many questions about chairs are left unanswered.
If you haven't guessed, this is a peculiar show. Devised by Dobson, co-director James Tudor Jones, and collaborators Terry Doyle and Euan Broughton, the surprisingly effective concept of a lecture so dull, but so strongly delivered, that it becomes hysterical, gradually gives way to unnerving and as surfing humour. The finer moments, and there are many over the hour we spend at this conference, delivered by the rest of the troupe of genuinely hilarious, and Dobson is equal parts the drill speaker and palpably disturbed by the madness ensuing.
For me, there was just too much of what was mostly a good thing. Having truly enjoyed watching Dobson contend with the repeated and warped segments of the presentation, anything that diverted too far from this central idea felt like a missed opportunity to lean more into the absurd comedy of a smarmy intellectual telling us about the history of chairs. No, I didn't expect that I'd one day want to be regaled with more information about how the modern chair came to be, and what precious styles of chair had been used for, but that's the genius at play in Brief History’s best moments.
Alas, I can't delve into the roles played by the others beyond their being interlopers seemingly set on ruining the presentation, or else give away the jokes and overarching pseudo-plot. Still, I can tell you that everyone plays to their comedic strengths and take this opportunity to recommend that you check out any futures runs of this odd, sinister, and confusingly charming little play. Sometimes, theatre worth seeing for yourself has nothing in its corner but a unique idea, tons of heart, and a deliberately naff PowerPoint that misspells Tutankhamen.
Amiably filling the gap left by a cancelled production, Broken Record’s A Brief History of Chairs may go a step too far in its eccentricities, and absolutely requires a good degree of open-mindedness from its audience, but it's difficult not to smile. Dobson, Jones, et al showcase natural comedic chops, and a refreshing willingness to look stupid in front of strangers and then walk over to shake their hands once all is said and done – perfect? No. High art? Nowhere near. A good time? Honestly, that’s a seat I wouldn't mind taking again.
A Brief History of Chairs finishes its Golden Goose run on Nov 11th
For tickets and information visit https://www.goldengoosetheatre.co.uk/whatson/a-brief-history-of-chairs-?book=yes
For information of future runs, and Broken Record Theatre’s future work, follow co-founder James Tudor Jones at https://twitter.com/jamestudorarts