A young girl marries the richest man in France, despite not loving him, but soon finds that the extent of his cruelty is far greater than her wildest expectations. This production of The Bloody Chamber covers all the major plot points of Angela Carter’s short story but frequently fails to capture the tone. Partly this is a problem of length; the actress playing the heroine has a tendency to rattle through Carter’s long lines of narration as fast as possible, so the sense of building suspense falls by the wayside. In the absence of suspense the audience resorted to laughter several times when what might have once been subtle foreshadowing became farcical in its absurdity. The opposite problem also affected the production – by cutting all mention of a character’s bravery until the very moment it came into play the ending became ridiculous.
Piano music plays a vital role in the story and play as the heroine’s escape and a pointed metaphor for her innocence. Thus it’s clear why this production have chosen to provide live playing from a keyboard and the fact that the electronically generated notes sound cheap is easily forgivable. However, having the actor playing the mother at the piano rather than the heroine is a terrible error, as is the decision not to acknowledge the keyboard as the piano referred to throughout – when the heroine goes to fetch something ‘from the piano’ she moves to the opposite end of the stage making it completely impossible to believe in the music-inspired romance that closes the play.
There are some good ideas behind this production though, particularly in the set design. There’s a simple but effective use of symbolism that does give the mystery’s climax some horrifying imagery. The choice to stage in thrust adds much to the heroine’s sense of confinement even if at points the actors have not considered how this should affect their performances. The use of physical theatre is almost always well thought out, if not perfectly executed, and recurring gestures add much to the otherwise limited characterisations. However, the performance is let down by unconvincing moments of naturalism and the naïveté with which the key themes of sexuality and innocence are tackled. It seems the performers are as naïve as the heroine herself.