The first thing that must be mentioned about First Theatre Company’s The Bloody Chamber is the location. A uniquely brilliant choice by director Sophie Wright, the authentic Crook Hall captured the audience from the moment they approached. This was unfortunately slightly ruined by the long wait for the play to actually start. But when it eventually did the atmospheric hall, complete with a fire and candles, helped set the scene for this Gothic tale.
Of course, the setting did have its drawbacks. The decision for a traverse stage, although helping to create an intimate feel, meant that often the actors were performing to one side of the audience, leaving the other, quite literally, in their shadow. The staging also meant that there was only one entrance and exit, forcing the actors to push their way behind the audience if they needed to leave. This often distracted from the action happening on stage. This being said, Wright’s style of immersive theatre helped to increase the feeling that the audience was intruding on a very intimate play. Surrounded by authentic props the audience could honestly believe they were sitting in a 20th century drawing room. This effect was occasionally broken by out-of-place props, such a copy of the Daily Mail, which seriously affected the atmosphere that the production team had tried to create.
Shona Graham (Girl) did an excellent job in the demanding role and her constant appearance on stage helped develop her relationship with the audience. While she played the naivety of her character well it was in her moments of intense emotion where she really excelled. Her moments of pain and anger were captivating and it would be nice to see this conviction brought to the rest of her time on stage. Her relationship with Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker (Marquis) was a believable one and she managed to capture the awkwardness well, however I think the contrast between the two characters could have been brought out more.
Thiagarajan-Walker brooding presence on stage never failed to creep out the audience; even when he stood in the shadows the audience could not help but look at him. However, his slower and calmer characteristics meant that he was often left behind by Graham’s erratic motions and this occasionally drained from the energy and pace of the scene. His interaction with Katie Anderson (Housekeeper) was an interesting one and the actors had clearly worked on the power balance between them. Their exchanges in French helped create the sinister nature of the scene as both the audience and Girl were left confused. Anderson herself played a commendably creepy servant and I liked the fact that when she was on stage her eyes were always fixed on Graham. It would, however, have been nice to see more facial expression when she was talking.
Lucy Knight performed her two roles Mother and Countess very well, managing to create an easy contrast between them. Her harassed nature as Mother was entirely different to the confidence she exuded whilst playing the Countess. This unfortunately cannot not be said for Sophia Martinez Pilnik (Diva & Nanny), there was little to no variation between her characterisation for both parts. While her vicious acerbic tone worked very well for her role as Diva, it only confused the moments when she played Nanny as it made the character a lot less believable. Wright’s decision to make Jean-Ives a girl (Charlotte Phipps) was an interesting one and it helped to display the discussion of femininity and sexuality she mentioned in her Director’s Note. Phipps portrayed being blind admirably, with her eyes looking off unfocused however she should concentrate more on portraying the youthfulness of her character as this is referred to often in the script.
The plot although it started off clear got quite confusing towards the end. Probably due to first night nerves the actors appeared to rush at this point and on the following nights I would encourage them to slow down as a way of ensuring their audience is still following. This production is certainly an absorbing one with strong performances from everyone involved. Its setting in Crook Hall makes it all the more intriguing and I encourage people to go see this interesting retelling of a classic folktale.
1TC’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is a completely sold out production for the whole week.
If you turn up on the door you might be able to purchase a ticket being resold.