Latest Lyric offering is a masterpiece, says Penny Flood
The Wild Bride at the Lyric Hammersmith, the latest production from Cornish group Knee High, is a masterpiece of choreography, design and musical direction that tells a very weird story about a girl whose father sells her to the devil. It is enjoyable as well as disturbing - a musical incorporating blues jazz, ragtime and spirituals, that keeps you you wondering what will happen next.
The Wild Bride is a new take on an ancient German folk tale called the Handless Maiden, about what happens when the only person you’ve got on your side is an extremely unpleasant Devil, who’s a bit of a sexual predator. Stuart McLoughlin is the Devil and he also plays a mean and moody blues guitar and banjo. Creepy looking in a white mask, he sits at a crossroads as the show opens. He is waiting - but for what?
Strumming a short riff on the guitar, he chats to the audience then sits back to wait and we wait with him in a few moments of eerie quiet. He knows what going to happen next but we don’t. That sets up a frisson of uncertainty and anticipation which lingers throughout the show.
As there’s no synopsis in the programme, you’re given no clues as to what to expect. It is even difficult guess at what might happen next from the action as it swings from horror to hilarity. These elements of surprise and shock are part of the fun.
As is usual in Knee High productions, there is much use of music, under the guidance of musical director Stu Barker, who also composed the music, with rhythmical vocals the diminutive Audrey Brisson in the more dramatic moments. The plot is slight and relies heavily on the music to carry it along. This is fine as the music’s great.
There are five people in the cast – two men and three women, plus Ian Ross as the musician who accompanies the show all the way through. He’s not alone. When the versatile cast aren’t acting, singing or gyrating around the stage they pick up instruments and play along.
Audrey also plays the Wild Bride as a child at the point when her father, drunk on his home-brewed ale, swaps her for a new coat and hat. It’s a mistake. He meant to give the Devil the old apple tree, but once its done there’s no turning back, and so the story unfolds. She’s sweet, pretty, innocent and the first shock for us and her is when she’s dunked in a bath of mud and then hosed down leaving her wet, weeping and trembling. The next shock is when she loses her hands.
Puppets are used to great effect. One particular imaginative one is a deer, a gentle creature which comes to play with the girl in the wood - but mark that deer, its second appearance is less benign and quite shocking. It’s all the fault of the Devil of course.
All three girls take it in turn to play the Wild Bride as she grows up. Audrey is followed by Patrycja Kujawska and finally Eva Magyar, who commissioned the play in her native Hungary where it was seen by Director Emma Rice, and this is her take on it.
Stuart Goodwin plays the drunken father and he pops up again in the second half as the prince. The plot wobbles here as he leaps onto the stage in a kilt with a silly Scottish accent and it descends into panto. But it does get back on its track with some great plot twists, more horror, music and song.
Does it end happily ever after? You’ll have to find out for yourself.
If it’s meant to be profound with a deep meaning on greater issues of good and evil, it doesn’t work. Where it does work is as an exciting night out. There are darker moments, some of them quite gruesome but these are interspersed with plenty of wit humour and there’s always the music to move things along.
September 14, 2011