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The Taxidermist's Daughter

Adapated for the stage by Kate Mosse based on her novel
Chichester Festival Theatre
Festival Theatre, Chichester

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Daisy Prosper as Connie and Forbes Masson as Crowley Gifford Credit: Ellie Kuttz
A scene from The Taxidermist's Daughter Credit: Ellie Kuttz
Akai Ossei as Davey Reedman Credit: Ellie Kuttz

This is a tale of revenge, retribution, injustice, the role of subservience that women have to accept and what they often have to suffer at the hands of men, particularly men of power, pillars of the community, gentlemen who believe they are above the law and are indifferent to any standards of morality or compassion. Basically a ghostly horror story, there are murders and suicides, but there are also a few moments of humour and even two love stories. What a lot to present on stage in less than two and a half hours.

All of this takes place on the Sussex Marshes taking in the villages of Fishbourne and Apuldram as well as the city of Chichester, all places well known to the author who believes that the combination of landscape and history and storytelling began in her Sussex childhood. However, inspiration for this tale (set in 1912) was the popular Museum of Curiosities where the self-taught taxidermist created tableaux based on nursery rhymes; The Death of Cock Robin echoes through this story of secrets and lies and danger.

This most atmospheric and riveting production takes it all in its stride from the dark, gloomy graveyard where a huge flock of imprisoned birds shocks as it erupt from the church, to the amazingly realistic raging storm, the sea crashing wildly on the rocks while the tide sweeps up closer and closer. There are surprises and shocks at every turn.

Superbly staged with design, lighting and video (Paul Wills, Prema Mehta and Andrzej Goulding) together with Sinéad Diskin’s music and sound creating the atmosphere for each scene from the ghostly graveyard to the exuberant busyness of a market day in Chichester and discordant shrieks of horror as a wronged woman takes her revenge.

On a calmer note, we are now in the taxidermist’s home with his daughter explaining, in detail, how she is preparing to resurrect a magnificent jackdaw There are a couple of ‘clues’ here anticipating what is to come. A coil of wire appears to be missing, and a scalpel has been misplaced, but who could guess at the horror which is to come and from where.

Daisy Prosper is perfect as Connie, the daughter, coolly independent, calm and practical, as if the the grisly task of dissection and stuffing is all perfectly natural, but she feels the weight of responsibility for an alcoholic father and is also battling with a complete loss of memory for most of her life. Forbes Masson is the father, Crowley Gifford, well portrayed as a man who has turned to drink to forget his past. He has his secrets too.

Director Róisin McBrinn has concentrated mainly on the dark horror side of this play which comes over extremely well and keeps the audience intently involved. The calmer scenes do not always gel so well, a little less believable, but there are some lighter moments. A particular mention for Akai Osei’s Davey Reedman perfectly portraying a cheeky young urchin who has an answer for everything and, surprisingly, the most objectionable character in the whole show brings a laugh at one point.

Overall, a gothic horror story presented with no holds barred and very true to the novel.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor