Gothic Horror - in Battersea!
At the end of last year I went to see Punchdrunk Productions’ version of The Masque of the Red Death, a fantastic promenade performance where the audience move freely around the whole building while the cast act out their scenes. We were all instructed not to talk as we moved around and we were given plague masks – expressionless white masks that added to the spooky atmosphere. Some of us even found our way to a wardrobe room where we were issued with hooded cloaks. It was quite amazing to join a queue of silent, masked figures waiting patiently to be cloaked by an extremely tall gentleman whose facial expression remained stony throughout the whole procedure.
There were curtained, smoky corridors, stone stairs led down to a crypt and the main staircase – a beautiful Victorian marble affair – was decorated with additional statues and became a wonderful back-drop for much of the evening’s action, which was based on the horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe. The low lighting – candles or very dim lamps – produced a claustrophobic effect – I had a very strong desire to switch on a light, which of course I could not do. There were lots of shadowy corners and corridors and the effect was very disorienting.
There was a bar area where one could relax (but only slightly): masks could be removed, drinks purchased and there was Music Hall style entertainment – but even this had a dark edge as the audience recognised characters they had seen in other rooms.
As a writer of historical novels I enjoyed the way the past had been recreated – I strained my eyes to examine the pen and ink drawings in the low light and to read the hand-written wine-tasting notes in the wine cellar, I peered into dark corners where I was sure someone was lurking and I was amazed at how much the other senses come into play when the lighting is poor – rooms smelled of incense or perfume and the touch of a woman’s rough woollen sleeve was almost shocking. EVeryone was brought together in a "ballroom" for the finale, a wonderful display of dance and physical theatre - bodies being flung around like rag dolls and the Grim Reaper making his entrance to finish it all off!
I loved it - I can’t say I understood everything that was going on, but then, that’s true of every Gothic heroine, is it not?
Although my books have their share of mystery and adventure, I have never written a gothic novel, but after this experience I am tempted to try it!
This production is still going on in London but it is extremely popular, and when I last checked the website, it was a sell-out.