It’s a classic story; girl marries guy, girl gets suspicious, anxious, she rummages in his attics and discovers the bodies of boy’s previous wives. An avid fan of Angela Carter I’m always happy to see new translations, manipulations and imaginings and this production, taken from Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and performed by all female international group Tip-Connection as part of the Manipulate Festival, doesn’t disappoint.
It was the soundtrack that really caught my initial attention and delight; sexy, slinky, jazzy and often humorous choices – Leonard Cohen’s eponymous song providing a wonderfully unsettling yet jaunty theme. Later, sounds become integral to the rising tension of the piece, ticking clocks, obscure ambient sounds that recall echoing halls, imbuing the scenes with a sense of vastness and isolation.
Bluebeard himself is brought to life by a blue leather jacket, an ominous presence on the stage, an empty space beneath a matching trilby is cavernous and hungry. The bride is the sole human presence on the stage for a majority of the production, initially lithe and playful with her movements, trying on clothes with a capricious air until the haunting begins.
The ghosts of the wives are bought to life by the rest of the ensemble by delicate, gliding nighties and dresses, beautifully eerie under the soft glow of blue lights. Gradually, however, and this is where things begun to get really exciting, the puppeteers themselves seem to emerge from the darkness as characters themselves. A first astonishing flash of this occurs as a laughing performer in the darkness adds sound to a capering ghost, and then as a light increases we see her grinning frenzied expressions as she too jumps with a wild insanity. As the piece progresses the puppets become less and less material and the puppeteers, the real spirits, are revealed as orchestrators and torturers. Finally it feels as if Bluebeard was never actually present, he really was only a puppet, he and his gruesome story brought to life by the spectres of our imagination.
At it’s best to the To the End of Love is elegant, sensual, and a playfully thoughtful adaptation of a familiar allegory. But certain moments fall in attempts to either disturb us or humour us (sometimes I’m not sure which was intended at all). The final moments of the spirit wives taunting, throwing a now lifeless leather jacket over our poor heroines head, felt overly petty, removing from the initial sinister power of the hovering wraiths. The primary urgency of the puppeteer’s feverish expression, her struggle for manifestation, wasn’t matched in their emergence as a group, but that moment has stuck with me; a fierce reminder of our minds’ wilful imagination.