In Underbelly’s Big Belly, the slow dripping from a leak in the roof onto the stage has never been a more apt presence in a production. The biggest strength this production has is its slow dripping of tension, successfully capturing the mood of the original 1898 classic gothic horror. Without this suspense the play would have had little substance but they deliver what is required with a calm assertiveness.
A real treat for classic horror fan who want to explore the tale in a new way
A very typical horror soundtrack underscores the Box Tale Soup production. Composed specifically for the piece by Dan Melrose, scraping strings are combined with dissonant electronic moments and a haunting piano melody. The music always accompanied the scenes perfectly and gave room for that all important tension to be welcomed into the room.
Of the two actors on stage Antonia Cristophers stole the show. She consistently delivers professionally even through the wordiest sections of scripting. Christophers appears sweet, yet enraged when demanded of her, where she has mastered a gentle shaking in terror. Unfortunately her stellar performance was somewhat let down by her male counterpart, Noel Byrne, although he did have a difficult job in playing all the others characters (the ghosts, the children and their nanny). On more than one occasion when on stage he did not feel like an authentic part of the production. Rather, he appeared to be merely awaiting his cue. Nonetheless, he had some wonderful moments conducting set changes and has created a very eerie feel to these movements.
Puppets in this piece were used for the children as well as the nanny. I couldn’t help but feel they were missing a third actor to take on the nanny’s roles and leave the somewhat creepy puppets for the children. With a perpetually worried expression and the voice of a middle aged man it was hard to suspend my disbelief and accept her as a character in her own right. This was a shame as many of the lines delivered by her were important to the plot. For the children, puppets worked well for the most part with Byrne operating them for the majority of the performance. This however did not feel quite right for the brief moments when Christophers took over their operation, notably in the bizarre directorial decision for her to slow dance with the very young child twice in the show.
Another creative choice which I had difficulty comprehending was the costume. The base was a very beautiful costume-in-period style coloured in black, grey and white. Perfect. This added small elements of writing from the book onto it, same colour scheme but a bit different and modernised the look. Great. Then in what must have seemed a flash of inspiration added bright neon coloured ascents, a flourished green bow, and a luminous orange waistcoat lining, which clashed with the delicate gothic suspense of the piece as a whole.
The act builds to a suitably intense, climactic ending that could only be expected from the well-structured and written production. Despite some of its short comings for much of the show, this production is lovely to watch and a real treat for classic horror fan who want to explore the tale in a new way. There are no jump scares making it a welcoming environment for the light hearted but still enough tension to get your heart going just the right amount.