The London Dungeon, London SE1
Opened 5 March, 1998

Grid Iron Theatre Company's adaptation of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber was first staged last August in a promenade production in a supposedly haunted underground street in Edinburgh. In their search for a London location which would come closest to reproducing that atmosphere, they have hit upon the idea of an after-hours event in The London Dungeon, that waxwork temple of gore in the catacombs beneath London Bridge station. As the audience foregathers next to a poor chap in the process of disembowelment, things do not look promising; in fact, "tacky" would be nearer the mark. However, once we have been led by a lantern-bearing woman into the chamber which houses the opening scene, such doubts begin to dispel, and are soon wholly banished.

Director Ben Harrison and designer/adaptor Keith Lodwick are not interested in the waxwork figures, but in the spaces themselves vaults which, however artificial their decor, nevertheless perfectly augment the mood of Carter's version of the Bluebeard story. As the young bride (Lucy Burden) is left to explore her husband's castle in his absence, we are led after her through a pitch-dark labyrinth of passages. Most tellingly, when she enters the Bloody Chamber itself (and we watch through the doorway), no attempt is made physically to reproduce the horrors she discovers therein: the crucial elements of the picture are provided not by the actual resources of the Dungeon, but by suggestion and imagination.

As the bride first makes her discovery and then attempts to conceal it from her husband (Ralph Bolland, accurately discerning that less is more in terms of conveying menace), she shares her lines with the figure of the Storyteller (Claire Cochrane), an invention of Lodwick's the same character, but older, narrating the tale in retrospect. The Storyteller flits around her younger self in the action, as does a live cello and piano score. Carter's sense of the unreal in the sense both of "fabulous" and of "ridiculous" is well preserved, and after 75 compelling minutes the company even ring an appropriately dark, though discreet, change on the conventions of the curtain-call.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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