It begins as a timeless fairytale and it turns into a nightmare, one in which fear of “the other” invites the jackboot in and we hear the sound of armies marching across the frosted landscapes of central Europe. In the tunnels under Bristol station there are darkling woods, doors that crumble to dust, giant jewel-like insects on a grassy mound, the words “witch” and “bitch” picked out in diamond neon lights, and a table where unseen gamblers sit on outsize chairs and a daughter is lost to the beast at cards.
Anyone who has read The Bloody Chamber will know that we are in Angela Carter territory, but this show created by Raucous, in collaboration with film-makers and creative and digital technologists, goes beyond the gothic into something more unsettling. As refugees once again trek across central Europe – welcomed by some but viewed with suspicion and fear by many – it offers something more disturbing, too.
In a gesture that encourages empathy, members of the audience are assigned names: when these names are called out it sounds like a litany, as if we are the walking dead.
Sharon Clark’s script, which has a poetic power, tells the story of Marietta, who lives in a stick house on the edge of a village whose inhabitants fear her as a witch.
This is a tale of outcasts, and men who, in pursuit of money, sex and power, grow fur on the inside. It’s not the beast without, but the beast already lurking in the house who needs to be feared. The spurned and rejected run wild in the woods; flames of anxiety, resentment and opportunism lick at the walls of the stick house.
Sometimes clarity is lost as the story crumbles under the weight of too many thematic strands, but Anna Ledwich’s production piles on atmosphere, and the mingling of performance with technology is brilliantly unobtrusive and effective. Cleverly conceived; distinctively different.