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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Wild Bride

Now I know why no one notices a tree as it grows
Because its deep roots creep down oh so slow
And their clever branches quickly learn
To blossom only when your back is turned.

The Wild Bride or The Handless Maiden
Patrycja Kujawska as The Wild (Photo: Steve Tanner)
I was blown away by the dark fairy tale fantasy of Kneehighís telling of The Wild Bride. Imagine a story book coming to life with the characters dancing off the page to beautiful bluesy music and you start to grasp this very special vibrant performance by just five actors. But with the opening scenes as grim as you would find in any of the fairytales by the Brothers Grimm this isnít a show for children.

The Father (Stuart Goodwin) makes a pact with the Devil (Stuart McLoughlin), with dark eyes a pale face like Uncle Fester, thinking heís trading the old apple tree for a bad taste fur collared coat and trashy gold necklaces. A third ďStuĒ composed the music to complete the trio of Stuarts. The Father is unaware that his sweet daughter (the diminutive songstress Audrey Brisson) was behind the tree and is part of the bargain and that the Devil will take her as his bride. With graphic movement the child plays with her father, spinning on his lap and showing her devotion to him, unaware of what his greed and foolishness has exposed her to, in a scene which felt to me as uncomfortable as child abuse. When the Devil declares his sexual interest with a sexually provocative dance round the child, that feeling was intensified to horror.

This is the darkest and most sinister rendition of what happens to childhood innocence in the hands of sexual predators that I recall seeing onstage. It made me shiver.

There is a problem for the Devil. The girl is too clean so she has to be muddied up so he isnít repulsed by the smell of cleanliness but she washes her hands and the Devilís solution is to have her father chop them off. Scary stuff! Two other actors take the part of the wild bride and they are present in all scenes, so the movement of one is reflected and synchronised by the other two. Patrycja Kujaawska who also plays the violin will act the grown up wild bride and finally dance specialist Eva Magyar will play her as a woman. We follow the wild bride to the forest where she lives alone with the animals until she meets and marries a prince (Stuart Goodwin in a kilt Ė donít ask what is under it!). After the Prince, now King, has to go to war, the Devil intervenes and the dowager Queen (played by expressive arms through holes in a full length royal portrait of maybe Queen Anne) sends her daughter in law and child away to a harsh, snowy winter in the woods. Amazing what you can convey with just arms and hand movements!

Kneehighís physical interpretation has beautiful choreography and movement and there were moments which reminded of one of Robert Wilsonís magical productions. To give an example in the first act: The girl is doing the washing in a tin bath and as she pummels the wash she does handstands into the tin bath. The movement is rhythmic and very expressive.

There is also lots of humour, some of it very dark. There is inventive scenery too. A pear tree is laden with light bulb pears and they are lowered for the girl to pick, hanging down from a kind of giant dreamcatcher.

All the performers are multitalented as they act and dance and make music and I was involved with the characters, even the delicate forest deer puppet which the wild bride encounters and which is instrumental in saving her life. A word of warning donít take any children who might find the story disturbing but adults will be rewarded with an exciting production which tugs at the heartstrings.

There are so many visual surprises and exciting music, the two hours flashes by. Donít miss the opportunity to see this remarkable company at its best on a national tour.

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The Wild Bride
Directed and adapted by Emma Rice

Starring: Audrey Brisson, Stuart Goodwin, Patrycja Kujawska, Eva Magyar, Stuart McLoughlin
The Musician: Ian Ross
Text and lyrics: Carl Grose
Designed by Bill Mitchell
Costume Designer: Myriddin Wannell
Choreographer: Etta Murfitt
Music: Stu Barker
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth
Sound: Simon Baker
Running time: Two hours 05 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0871 2211 729
Booking to 24th September 2011 at Hammersmith and then on tour to
September: Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 /
October: Northern Stage, Newcastle 0191 230 5151 /
Dublin Theatre Festival +353 16778439 /
St George's Church in partnership with Bristol Old Vic 0117 987 7877 /
Warwick Arts Centre 024 7652 4524 /
November : Chichester Festival Theatre 01243 781 312 /
Cheltenham Everyman 01242 572573 /
West Yorkshire Playhouse 0113 213 7700 /
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th September 2011 performance at The Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, Kind Street, London W6 0QL (Tube: Hammersmith)

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