Writer: Sharon Clark
Director: Anna Ledwich
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Bristol welcomes a new, innovative theatre space,The Lo-Co Klub. Situated in the arches under Bristol Temple Meads station, the dark, damp, brick-lined, earthy chambers provide the ideal setting for this gothic horror yarn.
With a nod to Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber and a few glances toother fairy tale classics,writer Sharon Clark’s The Stick House tells the story of Marietta, a young girl lost to a beast by her father in a game of cards at the age of 12. The beast imprisons her for nineyears in a stick housein the middle of a deepforestand waits to claim her as his ‘bride’.
The story is set up early on and the audience is held in a state of suspense as we watch Marietta’s fate unfold. Marietta’s damp captivity under the arches in this dark, chilly venue is hugely oppressive. The mysterious and imminent return of her captor keeps the audience in a state of nervous anguish, further heightened by the suggestion of the bestial nature of the impending partnership.
Developed by local theatre company Raucous, in collaboration with theatre, film, music and technical creatives, this production is billed as a promenade performance aimed at exploring the potential for digital and creative technology making theatre more immersive.
It all gets off to a good start. Before entering, each member of the audience is given a wooden board to hang around their neck with a character name on it. The audience is slowly led into the chambers and the story is set up by Jack Offord and Limbic Cinema’s filmed sequences projected around the cavernous sets. The horror of Marietta’s captivity is revealed in dark, grim detail in Conor Murphy’s grisly stick houseconstructed of broken chairs and pallets. Marietta curls in the shadows in this chilling, damp cage.
So far,so good, but at this point the immersive promise of the production starts to falter. Not much is made if the close proximity of cast and audience. Christopher Elson’s Hobbledehoy comes close as he stares down some audience members when he makes his entrance. The audience is asked to find dolls to match the names on their wooden name boards, yet these character names are barely referred to. The dolls started to pulse and glowas the tensions rose, it’s a great idea but barely discernable. It would have been intriguing to see how this could impact the tension.
Other aspects show great promise but did not always quite deliver, the production relies on dialogue to explain the story rather than action. The damp, musty smells of the forest, and underfoot the surface changes from pebbles to soft woodchip as we walk deeper into the woods were spot on. Thecrumbling walls are truly impressive but the victim’s den, when set ablaze, hardly produces a flicker. Such lost opportunities for immersion means the audience feels led from one stage to another rather than being surrounded by events and action.
If it had been a full-length production these frustrations could have become disappointing but, at only 75 minutes, the adrenaline and nervous anxiety levels are still there, sustained by acracking horror story in this chilling, gothic ambience. Despite the missed opportunities, this productioncertainly heightens our senses. An evening of great promise and a very exciting introduction to a new form of theatre and venue for Bristol.
Runs until Saturday, 17October 2015