Proteus Theatre bring The Bloody Chamber to Worthing

Proteus Theatre are offering their physical theatre adaptation of Angela Carter’s collection The Bloody Chamber (and Other Stories) – a year after they intended to do so.

The Bloody Chamber (credit Russ Francis Photography)
The Bloody Chamber (credit Russ Francis Photography)

Director Mary Swan said: “It has been what I like to call a real coronacoaster – a real rollercoaster of a year. It has been crazy. We tour nationally and we make work with a lot of artists. We also run a building space in Basingstoke. We have a lot of local community groups that use our building.

“And we were about to go into rehearsals for The Bloody Chamber when lockdown happened. We have just tried to keep going somehow. When we could over the year, we made work. We have realised our work digitally and we have also tried to keep the cast together and keep rehearsing.

“But you had to remember everybody was in the same boat. We were in suspended animation. We joined the James Bond club of having our dates moved and moved and moved, and now a whole year later we are finally getting to put the show in front of an audience.”

The Bloody Chamber will be at the Pavilion Theatre, Marine Parade, Worthing on Friday and Saturday, June 11-12.

It will strike a chord, Mary says.

At a moment when women and men across the country confront the double standards of safety, sex, and the fears of what goes bump in the night, she explains, Carter’s incendiary caustic take on fairy tales as cautionary tales will be a formidable challenge to the status quo.

Using circus as a physical vocabulary, Proteus will translate the fever dream style of Angela Carter’s macabre fairy tales to the stage in a “a heady, erotic, and surprisingly funny re-phrasing” of some of the most famous folk and fairy tales in Western culture.

It’s a piece that recognises that many of these fairy tales are warning tales for women. Red Riding Hood, for instance, tells women not to go down that particular path. But the company will intercut it all with modern-day warnings: don’t leave your drink unattended, for instance.

“Women are always being told what we can and can’t do in order to avoid being assaulted while on the other hand also promoting sexual fulfilment by catering to the male gaze. We give this advice to young women all the time; why the hell should we have to?

“Circus inverts the world: defying gravity, contorting the bounds of physical movement and embracing the human connection to do the impossible. It’s perfect for making familiar situations entirely surreal and surreal situations quite familiar; it’s perfect for challenging what’s socially accepted for no good reason. Carter’s fantastical, theatrical, lyrical stories are beautifully transfigured by circus.”

And they have a slightly different quality to them now, Mary feels, than they would have done had the production been able to go ahead last year.

“I think the pandemic has definitely changed the piece as we have gone on. I think it is funnier. It is not any lighter. It is very dark. But I do think it is funnier. It is these very dark tales with a twinkle. There is a darkness at their core, but there is also a playful quality which really came out through us rehearsing it through lockdown.

“We want to escape the darkness. We want pure escapism. There is a famous quote that fairy tales are the sci-fi of the past. And we are seeing now that people really want to stretch their imagination in all sorts of ways as we think about rethinking and rebuilding our society.

“I have always used circus in my work, for a long time now, for more than ten years. I have always used a very physical language on stage, and I have worked over the years with circus artists. I have directed shows with circus companies, but I have also used circus as a very physical language in my own work. This is the first time I have used a lot more acrobatics in a piece. It fits the fairy tale nature and the fantastical nature as you can see people literally defying gravity and so in a way you are taking the audience into another world straightaway. You are doing something that you are not really able to do in the real world, and immediately the audience let go of their reality.”