In interpreting Angela Carter’s short story, itself already an interpretation of the classic folktale of Bluebeard, 3Bugs have set themselves a formidable challenge. Any reimagining of a well-known tale is susceptible to pitfalls, so to attempt this twice over is a bold if potentially foolish decision.
The narrative is of course a recognisable one, almost utterly devoid of suspense; even for those not familiar with the original tale, the mention of blood in its title is a slight giveaway. A young girl leaves home to be married to the richest man in France, a mysterious figure saddled with the ghosts of three dead wives. Already we might begin to be suspicious. As she is taken to his remote castle home, the wedded life she finds there soon transpires to be anything but blissful.
In order to tell this highly visual tale in the inherently limited studio space, 3Bugs have turned to Carter’s words and to the imaginations of their audience. Passages of Carter’s text are rendered as monologues delivered by the female protagonist, repeatedly stepping out of the action to narrate her tale. It is a sensible creative choice, if not a particularly inventive one.
Carter’s interpretative success, however, proves to be 3Bugs’ failure. The ultimately insurmountable problem faced by this production is that the story alone is not all that inspiring. It is familiar and tinged with the melodramatic, a situation given to fake blood and hysterics. It is only through the richness of Carter’s prose that it is transformed into something grimly beautiful, a beauty that this company struggle to replicate on stage.
There are a couple of clever creative touches. The mirrors dangling from chains at the four corners of the performance space lend an immediately sinister atmosphere, suggesting watching eyes and hinting at the idea of seeing truth in a person’s reflection, while the placing of the young bride standing upon a stool has associations of both pedestal and sacrificial pyre. When assembled into an uneven whole, however, such images cannot compete with Carter’s.
** – 2/5 stars
The Bloody Chamber is playing at C venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.