What big ambitions you have, said the audience member as they settled in to their seat for this adaptation of Angela Carter’s fairytale-twisting collection of short stories.
Not only has Proteus decided to tackle the titular story of the collection but also interweave several of the shorter narratives through the 85 minute run, and to add to the complications they’ve brought in mime, puppetry, acrobatics, and dance.
Carter’s compendium is often wrongly labelled as being a feminist retelling of classic folk stories, while the reality is that the stories borrow from tradition but deeply subvert it, having their own lives and taking on some overtly sexual and macabre directions.
Director Mary Swan’s version is similarly some steps removed: there are clear elements of the book that come through, but she has also brought a message about women’s physical safety more clearly to the fore (with overt references to the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard), and while key refrains from the text are used this is a more physical than lyrical production.
There is also more humour than I remember, especially from a feisty ventriloquist’s doll, and less lingering gore; perhaps stag-inflation has already hit stage blood, but despite the title the only thing that washes the theatre is some crimson lighting.
The ensemble performance places heavy demands on the five-strong cast, including playing two different characters at the same time, with a Two-Face style split down the middle. The circus background of cast members Anesta Mathurin and Rosie Rowlands clearly shows through in the aerial work and hand balancing that pervades the piece, but the more traditionally-trained Megan Brooks and Ashley Christmas cope with the physical demands well. In the opposite direction, Lorraine Moynehan is captivating as a house mother MC type.
The show continually surprises and the decision to break The Bloody Chamber up into segments with other stories intervening works pleasingly well. The production does feel, however, slightly less visceral than the book, with some of the most shocking, explicit passages dialled back.
This is Mary Swan’s Bloody Chamber, not Angela Carter’s, but it is no less compelling for that.
- The Bloody Chamber finishes at Norwich Playhouse on Saturday, 14 May, at 2.30pm