Alison Whyte’s irresistible performance of The Bloody Chamber is reason enough to see it before it finishes on the weekend. It’s like being tucked into bed and read a fairytale that lulls you into wanting to sleep with the lights on forever, but finally leaves you safe and comfortable in its blood-soaked darkness.
Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a re-telling of French Bluebeard story where a new young wife discovers the fate of her much older husband’s former wives. It’s from her 1979 collection of re-told fairy tales where women and girls don’t end up as dead or eaten as they are in traditional tales, have and want sex, and are capable of being their own heroes.
Van Badham – who might be my favourite Tweep (@vanbadham) – has adapted this text from Carter’s novella. It’s still told by the young wife (who’s now an older woman) and glories in Carter’s graphic and bloody imagery that’s guided by an under current of sexuality and power that’s belies any dull gender stereotypes.
Director Matthew Lutton creates a curious balance between telling and showing a story. The stage has a delightfully eerie atmosphere with three live harpists and a water-stained space where three huge black chambers hide secrets. And Anna Cordingley’s design of black boxes, a bed and just enough red reveals little, but forces the audience to imagine the shining jewels, turning tide and bloody horrors. (However, I was sitting at the back and couldn’t see all of the early revelations.)
But it’s all about Whyte, whose telling (with some help by Shelly Lauman) evokes the story’s ghosts in all of the stage’s empty spaces. She may not be the innocent narrator imagined by some readers, but it’s still like she strode out of the pages to make us really understand what she went through, rather than leave it to the unreliable imaginations of the readers.