The Bloody Chamber remains to this day the only text I studied at A level that I do not hate, so I was excited to see it on the ADC late show programme this term. Angela Carter’s original text mixes horror with fairy tale, past with present, and this production does not stray far from this.
Gentle piano music plays as the audience enters, and the stage is a sea of red: Ella Fitt’s lighting and Jamie Atkinson’s set design both accurately foreshadow the upcoming events, even if they are slightly heavy-handed on the symbolism. Sophie Beckingham’s costume design also follows this colour scheme and kept the time in which this tale is set pleasantly ambiguous, as in Carter’s original story. The production also makes use of a projector to show travel and outside settings, although I felt this its use was too inconsistent and felt quite disjointed compared to the rest of the set.
The play follows the story of a young pianist who marries a much older Marquis, who takes her away from her family to his island castle. As the story unfolds and she begins to discover the dark secrets that surround her husband, the new Marquise (played by Isobel Maxwell) meets a selection of fairy-tale archetype: the charming young lover, mysterious housekeeper, three weird women and hero who just might save the day, each of whom come with a twist while still remaining entirely recognisable.
Maxwell manages to perfectly capture the naive vanity of the heroine and contrasts this with far more gripping emotional moments. Her mother (Sophie Stemmons) is both stern but likeable, making the ending all the more satisfying. Zachary Aw oozes the too-smooth, slimy quality of the Marquis into every line, delightfully contrasting with Cian Morey’s Jean Ives.
A particular strength of this performance is the interactions between Stemmons, Delamarre and Ali in their chamber scene; it’s clear that the actors are enjoying themselves and we do too. However it’s this chemistry that also highlights the weakness of some of the monologues. The first-person narration demanded by the script proves a challenge to perform without losing our interest, a task not aided by the odd lighting choices made at times.