The Wild Bride

Adapted by Emma Rice, text and lyrics by Carl Grose, music by Stu Barker
Kneehigh
Lyric, Hammersmith, and touring
(2011)

The Wild Bride production photo

When Emma Rice and Kneehigh are on song, they produce theatre like no-one else. The Wild Bride borrows from a number of different artistic traditions to tell a chilling but ultimately uplifting tale in a style that is totally engrossing for two full hours.

It starts with a blues song introducing the Devil himself in true Robert Johnson style, courtesy of composer Stu Barker. This tall, thin dude played and spiritedly sung by Stuart McLoughlin is after a little fun and tricks a hick farmer into giving up the contents of his backyard in exchange for nothing more than some smart threads.

Stuart Goodwin's farmer cannot believe his luck in swapping a barren apple tree for happiness but slowly, with audience assistance, recalls that the yard had another occupant.

Suddenly, he (and we) realise that the Devil has acquired the farmer's daughter, who is therefore set to become the handless maiden of the evening's subtitle.

Although it seems Grimmly Germanic, the underlying folk tale comes from Hungary, where they apparently like their entertainment dark and at times symbolically gory.

The tiny, girlish Audrey Brisson, the first in the title role, escapes her captor but at the bloody expense of her hands.

Now played by Patrycja Kujawska the Bride finds happiness with a Scottish soldier-Prince (Goodwin returning in a kilt) but not for long. After he is sent off to war by tricky Satan, some confused messages instruct Mother-in-Law to do away with the bride.

After the interval, we follow the woman, now played by Éva Magyar, into a cold wilderness with a babe in arms until her fiery tormentor returns once too often.

Then, in a fashion almost unknown in any literary tradition, the Devil gets a good kicking, much to the pleasure of all good people both on and off the stage.

The poetically told story, leavened by much-needed humour, is only a small element of the pleasure to be derived from Emma Rice's intoxicating vision of The Wild Bride. The music, for the most part played by all six performers led by Ian Ross, mixes the Blues with something yearning and mellow, allowing Miss Brisson to really exercise her tonsils and charm the audience.

Added to this, there is some beautiful modern dance from the female trio choreographed by Etta Murfitt and a small sample of low budget, skeletal Bunraku puppetry to add an extra element.

When all of these ingredients are put together the results can be, and usually are, magical.

Peter Lathan reviewed this production at Northern Stage, Newcastle

Reviewer: Philip Fisher