THE WICKED LADY
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 5th October, 2021
“Fear and laughter sit right next to each other,” observes one of the characters in this two-hander. He’s not wrong. It is notoriously difficult to frighten people in the theatre. What is intended to scare can come across as risible but pitch the elements right and you can really put your audience through the mill.
Writer-director James Williams gets just about everything spot on in this taut chiller, loosely based on historical figure, Katherine Ferrers, who has already inspired films and plays: the noblewoman turned highway robber, defying conventions and morality. Williams sets his piece very firmly in the present day, so the eponymous Wicked Lady is long dead, although maybe not gone. Assisting the police in their investigation into a missing child, ghostbuster Alice Beaumont winds up in the Wicked Lady’s decaying mansion and the scene is set for a series of shocks and surprises.
As Alice, Nicki Davy is superb and utterly convincing as her “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts” mindset is besieged by the unexplained and the downright terrifying. She is matched by Saul Bache as persistent Detective Sergeant Sean Fenton, who has his own reasons to be invested in the outcome of the investigation.
The Blue Orange may be short on space, but it is definitely not short on atmosphere. The team pull out all the stops to engender a suspenseful atmosphere. Alex Johnson lights the impressive set he has designed to highlight key moments and to pull our focus away with a bit of misdirection. Dan Clarkson’s excellent sound design surrounds and chases around us, with eerie breathing, childlike singsong, and sudden loud noises that keep us on edge. There are also original music compositions by Tomas Wolstenholme to augment the tension and underscore the action. Production values are sky high; this is easily the most lavish production I’ve seen here.
Well-written and superbly executed, this is a gripping piece of theatre, a sublime example of what smaller, independent venues can do and why they deserve your support.
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