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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Wild Bride
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre   Autumn 2011

The reason I am an unabashed fan of Kneehigh Theatre is their audacity, their willingness to take wild imaginative leaps, attempting projects, employing styles or reaching for effects that couldn't possibly work. And sometimes they don't work, and the company falls on its face. 

But when they do – and in my experience they do more often than not – the result is thrilling theatre, exciting because it serves the play or project brilliantly, because it creates memorable stage pictures, and because, as enraptured as you may be by the tale they're telling, some part of you is awed by the artistic tightrope they're walking so successfully. 

Consider The Wild Bride. Adaptor-director Emma Rice and writer Carl Gross have taken a Hungarian folk tale and not only transported it to the American South but set it to country and blues-flavoured music by Stu Baker and choreography by Etta Murfitt that ranges from stylised movement through the eccentric dancing of vaudeville comics to beautiful classical and modern dance sequences. 

The actions of the main character are mirrored by two stagehand-cum-chorus figures who then take turns moving to the fore as the role is passed between them like a baton, while one actor plays both her father and her husband (Take that, Sigmund Freud), who for no particular reason is a comic stage Scotsman. 

And did I mention that the main character has her hands (symbolically) cut off, that everyone in the cast plays one or more musical instruments and doubles as back-up band, or that much of it is surprisingly moving and much is very, very funny?

The story is of the devil tricking a man into giving up his daughter. But the girl is too pure in body and soul for the devil to enjoy, so he has her mutilated and degraded. She still manages to win the love of a prince and become his queen, leading the devil to ever more desperate attempts to destroy her. 

And the music, and the comic backwoods accents, and the fact that everybody dances everywhere, and even the fact that we keep switching actresses in the central role are all things that no one else would dare try (if they thought of them at all) for fear that they would look pretentious or just foolish, and in fact all serve the fairy tale beautifully, catching you up in its magic from the first moments and never letting you go. 

As the devil and primary narrator, Stuart McLoughlin combines the dangerous charm of the city slicker amongst bumpkins with a loose-limbed comic gracefulness as a dancer. Stuart Goodwin makes both father and husband real and sympathetic while keeping them distinct. 

And Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar combine forces to create the central character while also establishing and sustaining the sense of theatrical magic at work. 

Brisson may be the best singer, Kujawska the strongest actor and Magyar the most trained dancer, but their strongest contributions come when they blend together as the character and her doppelgängers - one of my strongest and most evocative images from the show comes in a scene about other characters, with the three women in the rear of the stage, quietly dancing to music they alone can hear.

Like most fairy tales, this show contains elements – the severed hands, a war sequence – that parents will think too dark for their children but children will completely accept without trauma, and I can think of few better introductions to the special magic of live theatre.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Wild Bride - Kneehigh at Lyric Hammersmith 2011

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