first night

The Bloody Chamber

Naomi Solomons sees 1TC bring Bryony Lavery's stage adaptation of Angela Carter's story to life.

The Bloody Chamber is an unsettling, disturbing story that, alongside its exploration of virginity, power and female sexuality, seems to contain far too much sex and violence to allow for a successful student production. However, last night, First Theatre Company presented a captivating performance that did not falter in presenting the horror and passion of Angela Carter’s distorted fairy tale. Nor could there have been a better venue for this play than Crook Hall. The old, high-ceilinged room, complete with candles and fireplace, and even the relative isolation of the unfamiliar setting, gave full colour to the script, and the atmosphere was maintained from the moment we entered the dimly lit, hostile opening scene.

You would be hard pressed to find a moment of the show that wasn’t astonishingly believable. The small cast had no weak links, and every performance was brilliantly crafted. Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker was a skin-crawlingly creepy Marquis with phenomenal stage presence—his stony, chilling treatment of his wife was genuinely frightening. He warmed into the more passionate scenes well and gave impressive depth to the character later on. However, some of the anger and frustration was lacking in intensity, and he could have done more to demonstrate the violence of the character.

This was perfectly balanced by Shona Graham’s outstanding performance as La Marquise. Her movements were impeccably measured to portray the various facets of the girl, from the naïve excitement of the courtship to the tantrums, horror, anguish and resolute dignity that followed. The visible discomfort she showed towards the Marquis at several moments was clear but subtle, and her despair at her situation was lifelike and very moving. I felt that there were some moments that seemed somewhat unanticipated—I would have liked to see the tension build more towards her emotional outbursts at various points. However, I appreciate this is limited somewhat by the adaptation itself. Furthermore, there could have been an even greater contrast between the older narrator and the excitement of the younger girl during her courtship. The pacing throughout the play could have done more to create the atmosphere of growing fear and isolation—one of my favourite scenes was of the Marquis naming his keys, as the sudden change of tempo not only added interest but allowed for the first signs of his temper to be clearly shown.

The other characters were each well developed and interesting. I was particularly impressed by the contrast shown between each of the Marquis’ previous wives and the other character the actor played—it showed that real thought had been given to their portrayal and direction, especially with the smaller parts. Sophia Martinez Pilnik brought a fantastic energy and excitement to the earlier scenes, and Lucy Knight has a tremendously expressive face and excellent physicality that supported the strength of the mother well. Above all, Katie Anderson gave a terrifying performance, both as the cold, cruel housekeeper, and as the muse—a vastly different character for which she changed her tone and body language skilfully for the spine-chilling taunting of the girl. Charlotte Phipps must be commended for a subtle and natural performance, in which she was able to very convincingly portray a blind character. Although she did occasionally turn her head or look around in reaction to the others, it was on the whole very well done.

There were some very minor moments that could have been improved. The music and sound effects were well timed throughout the rest of the piece, and it would not have been too hard to have the telephone ring at several important points. It was also not always clear whether background characters were meant to be still or reacting to the scene, and the past wives were dressed in black while being described as wearing white. The use of lighting was good but the most powerful moments were the more gloomy parts, which utilised the light from the candles and fireplace, and that could have been used more often. However, these are small points, and director Sophie Wright has much to be pleased with. I particularly enjoyed the use of the mirror, which gave an added weight to some of the more thoughtful moments, and increased the sense of claustrophobia and imprisonment. The staging of the scenes with the wives, first displaying themselves for and then taunting the girl, was poignant and effective. The more challenging scenes, both the grotesque and the erotic, were well executed and did justice to the power of the original work.

I understand that it’s difficult to motivate yourself, especially at such a busy time of year, to watch a dark and uneasy play. However, I cannot recommend this production highly enough. It was a stunning performance in a beautiful venue and definitely a worthwhile way to spend the evening.

22 February 2017

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
Our theatre that speaks for itself

DST is proud to be supported by: PwC