The Bloody Chamber

Wed 15th – Mon 27th August 2012


Laura Peatman

at 09:58 on 17th Aug 2012



Angela Carter’s 'The Bloody Chamber' is one of the richest, wordiest examples of twentieth century writing, with adjectives spilling out of every sentence. 3Bugs Theatre were thus posing a big question – how can you translate this effusive prose into a dramatic piece? I’m afraid the answer we received tonight was: you can’t.

This is not to say that the group of Birmingham students don’t make a sterling effort. The cast of four are obviously enthusiastic and believe whole-heartedly in the production, which gets you halfway there. Yet they are unable to achieve their full potential due to some misjudged staging and the inevitable problems of such a direct theatrical interpretation. The script frequently quotes Carter’s prose: but description on a page does not always work as spoken dialogue, as becomes abundantly clear when lines such as “I had been infinitely dishevelled by the loss of my virginity” and “I do my wife the honour of her immolation” are unintentionally transformed from the sublime to the ridiculous when read aloud. This is not necessarily down to weak acting, but merely that the written word and the spoken word cannot always be treated the same.

Similarly, the mysterious and symbolic figure of the piano-tuner becomes stilted and rather ineffective when put into flesh: David Williams does a solid job with a part that offers little, portraying his blindness convincingly – but there is little persuasion in the script that this character is even necessary. On the other hand, visual characterisation does prove valuable in the pairing of Jack Fairley and Miranda Horn as the newly-married couple: Fairley’s towering height makes an imposing impression next to Horn’s petite frame, and the direction cleverly exploits this. Horn plays girlish naivety well, although her solo sections are rather unconvincing – although, as mentioned, she is struggling against an unforgiving script. Fairley uses movement and gesture skilfully to lend the character its disturbing core, although his delivery could be more varied to suggest the eerie exoticism which exudes from his character, possessing as he should an “opulent male scent of leather and spices”. Oddly, in a different production, Charlie Reilly would gain more plaudits for her performance as the concerned mother, but her style of acting does not suit the rest of the ensemble – in many ways the characterisation is too modern for this production.

The cast are also let down by some unsuccessful production elements: clumsy-looking props such as Horn’s ill-fitting white dress, and the disappointing mannequins supposedly representing the Marquis’ “display of flesh”, stifle any horror they should evoke. With little to no set, the task of transforming this black box of a room into the lush settings of Carter’s tale was always going to be an impossible one, so the team sensibly take lighting as their main tool. Yet there are simply too many lighting changes with seemingly little logic to them, meaning their effect is diluted: the darkness and red filters which introduce our protagonist’s discovery of the titular room are effective, but are abandoned too quickly in favour of harsher, colder lighting, as if they weren’t quite brave enough to stick to this artistic decision for long. The elements of physical theatre are similarly inadequate: if taken further and used more extensively, they could have provided an innovative way into a visually powerful adaptation. As it is, they are too brief and jar against the rest of the more traditional staging.

This was a brave attempt at a task which I think more and more may be an impossible one: Carter’s prose may simply not work on stage. By attempting the adaptation less literally and focusing more on lighting and physical theatre than the recitation of prose, this company could pull off a more compelling piece.


Chelsey Stuyt

at 14:04 on 17th Aug 2012



This adaptation of Angela Carter's famous short story, “The Bloody Chamber” falls into the great George Lucas trap, “You can write this, but you sure can't say it.”. Carter's story is littered with interesting and apt word choices. But when you put those words into the mouth of an ordinary person the result is a strange, unrelatable beast unable to connect to the audience.

The four actors, particularly the two women (Charlie Reilly and Miranda Horn), make a game effort to translate Carter's literary aesthetic into physical and emotional drama. However, Reilly's 'naturalistic' style of acting is at odds with the more 'impressionistic' style portrayed by Horn and Jack Fairley. Reilly is able to bring a depth of reality to the character of the mother, particularly in the farewell scene at the beginning, but is unable to capitalize on this drama as both she and Horn are caged in by words that are clearly unnatural to them. Horn makes a strong attempt to bring emotional depth to a rather contrived fairytale character and her skill at producing tears on demand should be applauded, but she too is under-served by a script that puts her so far outside the relatable reality that Reilly creates. Fairley's performance as well feels far too reserved, and made him appear as little more than a mannequin. However, in the physical scenes, particularly the wedding night, his raw physical intensity shines through in a way that makes me suspect he is also underserved by the script. It is possible that he is an excellent actor, sadly not treated to enough of his range to prove it.

However, all of that could have been forgiven if some care had been taken with the pacing of the script. It seems that the adaptor was more concerned with staying true to Carter's original than in creating a drama for the stage. The daughter's narration during the middle of emotional scenes killed any sense of drama or tension. The same occurs when the mother's arrival, and the daughter's execution are spoken about minutes before they occur. Yes, that is the order it occurs in the story. However, the inherent differences between a short story and a theatrical production demands some consideration.

In spite of the incredible potential within the cast, the story, and the music (played beautifully by the multi-talented Charlie Reilly), this production is far too literal to be a successful adaptation. The talent of the cast shines through in the moments when they leave the words behind and use their physicality to express Carter's meaning. It is a shame that they could not trust themselves further to let go of the words on the page and truly translate the story for the stage. A cast with incredible potential that is sadly held back by an overly literal script.


Audience Avg.

0 votes, 0 comments

Click here for more event information

cast involved

other events on

Version 0.3.7a