In typical Kneehigh style, The Wild Bride is exuberant, gruesome fun, bursting with good tunes and playful staging. However, for a show that describes itself as a “feminist fairytale”, the Bride (Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar) doesn’t have a lot to say for herself: she goes from Girl (played with delicacy by Brisson) to Wild (an acrobatic and feral Kujawska) to Woman (Magyar, managing to be both tender and tough) without much agency of her own beyond survival. She is humiliated, mutilated, cast out and tormented at the whim of the Devil (Stuart McLoughlin), and although she does survive, she doesn’t do much to fight back until the very end.
Having said that, McLoughlin’s devil is so charismatic and malevolent that it’s understandable that the rest of the cast get a little overshadowed – the devil not only gets all the best tunes, but all the best lines, too. McLoughlin is lithe, louche and bouncing with evil. He has an arrestingly good voice, and sings and plays banjo/guitar with casual skill.
All the music is superb, actually. The songs are witty, clever and well-done, with an on-stage musician (Ian Ross) and multi-talented cast members, but there were a few too many for my taste: the music works best when it is either providing atmospheric background noise or when McLoughlin is showboating shamelessly and carrying a big tune. There were moments when the production becomes almost like a talent show – each cast member sings, dances, leaps, does acrobatics, plays music and acts, all without missing a beat or seeming to get out of breath. Kujawska, Brisson and Magyar, as the various incarnations of the Bride, are wildly flexible and acrobatic, prowling, leaping, dancing and cartwheeling with dexterity and admirable flair. While impressive, I’m not entirely convinced that this is always the best way to tell a story; perhaps the acrobatics distract from the story which should be strong enough to speak for itself.
Carl Grose’s script is lovely, employing a nice self-conscious narrative device of having the characters able to check what’s going to happen next in their story by reading ahead in the book. The dialogue is sparse but used to great comic effect (particularly by Stuart Goodwin’s prancing Prince), and strikes a nice balance between excitement, pathos and redemption.
All in all, this was a fabulous evening’s entertainment, but I wonder if a slightly pared-down version, where the story is given more prominence, might have been effective and affecting. McLoughlin’s mercurial, menacing performance, though, was enough to override all other thoughts about the production: he steals the show.
The Wild Bride is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until the 24 September before going on tour around the UK. See