In order to prevent spoiling the show, I will be unable to give away any of the plot information that I would usually use to give context to a review. Apologies, but I have your best interests at heart.
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead exceeded all of my expectations. I arrived at Downstage expecting a light comedy about women scorned and all that jazz, and was swept away by a hundred and twenty minutes of gritty, hardcore, emotional theatre.
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is delivered in the form of several monologues, each a different perspective on the same event. Only eventually, on hearing the story from several different perspectives, does the audience cotton on to what has happened (I think I was one of the last) and begin to untangle the web of characters and the intricate and complicated relationships between them (I needed it spelled out to me but I have always been a little slow when it came to this sort of thing). Keeping the audience in the dark is a successful device in keeping them emotionally engaged with the action and is achieved through rationing the information given to the audience. This is done by Fox’s characters on several levels, from explicit statements through to throw-away lines and simple gestures.
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is a wonderful and interesting take on perception, narrative, and how people see the world. It makes me think of the famous obfuscation from Obi Wan Kenobi in Empire Strikes Back (why is Star Wars the height of twentieth century philosophy?): “everything is true, from a certain point of view.” That there are many different sides to the story of The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is powerful. It makes us question the truth (for want of a better word) of what we are told, even by our best friends, and makes us realize that there are many interpretations to the world that are for the most part ignored. It is scary to think of the wider implications of so many people misunderstanding each other. If it has disastrous consequences in a small tightknit community, what, one must ask, would happen if this is a global phenomenon?
The set of The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is unique and disturbing. It is a stark, sterile, white environment that generates a powerful sense of unease in the audience. Rather than relying on theatre lighting (which is used only sparsely, to heighten the effect of its absence) The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is lit using banks of institutional, tubular fluorescent light-bulbs. The fringes of the stage are also littered with televisions playing looped CCTV footage, mannequins of all shapes and sizes, and two large clear plastic bags, dirty laundry bags with no soul. Actually, soulless is a good description of the entire set. It reeks of institutionalised oppression and could easily be a shopping mall, prison or loony bin.
The soullessness of the set is in fierce juxtaposition to the lives and portrayal of the characters, all of whom have personality by the bucket load. This is one of the more obvious questions that The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead asks of the audience: how are we supposed to live in such a sterile, unnatural environment without something going awry?
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is undoubtedly ‘The Kerry Fox Show’, but this is in no way a criticism. She turns a collection of stereotyped Kiwi characters into real people with real motivations and real emotions, and she maintains her performance through a gruelling two hours. As the shows protagonist Rhonda Russell she is an honest, confused and scorned woman for whom the audience has great empathy. Although she commits a truly terrible act we understand why she did it and it is almost as if circumstance, not her, is to blame (perhaps I have given away too much). As a mentally handicapped and troubled boy she is equally convincing, giving a heartbreaking and disturbing performance that as an audience member you want to end, but can’t help but watch. The intensity of each performance was most evident in Fox’s face come the finale of the show. The audience wanted to thank her for a magnificent performance with three rounds of applause but it was obvious that she just wanted (and probably needed) to sit down.
Her transition between characters is distinctive. To create a sense of each character Fox dons a couple of costume items that typify each of her personalities, or plays with her nondescript base costume. There were no wigs, something to expected from a play with the title of The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead. This worked stylistically and avoided the inevitable decline into farce that comes with such problematic props often meant that the audience were left guessing as to the identity of the ‘blonde’ and the ‘brunette’. Maybe though, this is because there was more than one of each.
Despite being a gripping drama it is also darkly comic. The world in which the characters inhabit is one that we, urbane, educated, city dwellers, look upon with bemused scorn. The characters live in a trashy world where shopping at the Mall is the height of fashion and retail sales-person is a noble career. These people could be living in the Hutt, in Tawa or in Hastings. They could also just as easily be living next door to you. Don’t think I am judging these people for a moment though, The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead exposes them as having the same motivations and bigotry that we do, they are just a little bit more honest about it.
The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is a difficult play to describe in one sentence, so apologies for the clumsiness of the next one. The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead is one-woman Vagina Monologues come Pulp Fiction set in white-trash suburban New Zealand.
I need to see it again.
By Robert Hewett
Directed By Colin McColl
Starring Kerry Fox
Downstage 21 September – 7 October