The Bloody Chamber

BETH GREAVES thinks this didn’t quite manage the balancing act.

angela carter beth greaves Isabelle Kettle the bloody chamber

ADC, 24th-27th October, 11pm, £5/6

Dir. Isabelle Kettle

This shows early promise. A flash-forward sequence introduces a young girl (Charlotte Quinney) at her piano, dreamily recalling her ex-husband, who may or may not lie dead on the floor.

Jagged vignettes show their whirlwind courtship, projected behind the actors in black-and-white film. The nightmarish mood and non-linear structure is perfectly suited to the growing menace and unease, while Quinney’s performance as the ingénue, and Kitty Drake’s as her mother, heighten both our sympathy and the tension. We know something bad is going to happen, but not what.

This great start withers a little when the action shifts to the girl’s married home. The minimalist set, practical for the limited space, fails to evoke the sweeping grandeur of a gothic mansion. The large mirrors that reflect the actors are perhaps unoriginal, but they are used well during the most charged scenes.

A casualty of the more charged scenes is the girl’s new husband, Marquis (Robbie Aird). He’s a standard Gothic Husband cut-out: mysterious, threatening and dangerous. Unfortunately, his snarling “Welcome to my castle” routine recalls Dracula, not a gothic super-stud. Still, he is far more impressive when handling emotional depth, as is Quinney, who is consistently good as his young wife.

At several points, though, they are both ill-served by Lavery’s script. A twisted fairytale, laced with dread and dark humour: it’s a challenging note to hit, and one that the script sometimes misses. The one-liners are funny (especially well-delivered by Freddie Poulton as Marquis’s nurse), but awkward between the ultraviolent sexuality.

Also, please: show, don’t tell. Understandable in clarifying finer points of an adaptation; ridiculously overused in this case. Quinney must recall things that are blatantly happening onstage, in bizarre past tense. Lavery doesn’t seem to trust her actors with even the most banal of stage directions: “He closed my legs like a book,” Quinney says with a strange lack of emotion, as Marquis does just that. It’s jarring and drains a lot of the power.

Often, the production is stuck between raw naturalism and gothic absurdity, trying to reach for both at the same time. The show’s best moments arrive when Lavery picks a side, such as in the chamber itself. It would be wrong to spoil it but all the actors deliver.

The Bloody Chamber is a good effort at juggling black comedy and psychological horror. It’s just a shame it doesn’t strike the balance right more often.