Raucous - The Stick House

Raucous: The Stick House

Raucous - The Stick HouseKnowing Bristol and its various performance spaces well, I felt excited by the prospect of visiting this hitherto unused, mysterious place – The Lo-Co Klub – underneath the Victorian passenger sheds of Temple Meads Station. As audience members we were initiated into what felt like a dark process: given Germanic names written on a piece of hardboard to hang round our necks, like aliens or criminals or soon-to-be-deported ‘others’; and then, on top of that, an invisible stamp to the wrists. What participation would the performance be asking of us?

We shuffled into the cavernous subterranean vaults guided by little lights on the ground. In the darkness there was a sense of immense volume, and the doors closed heavily behind us, heightening the feeling of threat. The Stick House then developed as a piece of site-specific, multimedia, reconstructed folklore. Within this unusual space the performances, enhanced by various technical devices, related narratives reminiscent of the original versions of the stories of Brothers Grimm. Costume and dialogue contributed to the feel of another age, another place: a concoction of medieval and Victorian worlds in stark contrast to our contemporary comforts.

The narrative centered on the plight of a young girl, Marietta, ‘lost’ at cards by her father, to some unknown, disembodied, male power. As soon as this is established we could only feel that things will not go well for her – but in what way? This story, enacted in this site, reminds us that the Victorians cut out the nasty bits in fairy tales but left them in, in real life, for most of the population. And, like reading a horror story those are the bits we feel most drawn to. The tale then touches on themes of the fragility of life, in particular for orphaned or abandoned children; social ostracization – witch hunting; sexual exploitation and rape; and the persistence of the power of superstition.

Changing the role of the audience from deportees, to voyeurs, to ostracizing villagers, was helped enormously by the full use of the space. Originally built as a series of interconnected, vaulted areas, the spaces between the vaults were lit as passages into other rooms, and used to move the audience on into the next section of the story. Lighting, projections, and sounds made us turn and walk towards the next scene or left us in complete darkness.

The technical wizardry was far more slick then a son-et-lumiere, and its aim clearly was to push a contemporary relevance onto the story’s themes (words like WITCH and BITCH flashed up in neon lights), but at times it distracted me from the aims of the performance and made me feel I was in a theme park of tricks; I soon lost focus or concern for poor Marietta.

Where I did feel strong engagement was with the character of Hobblehoy, the village ‘idiot’, in particular his direct address to the audience as he sits in the filth of a muddy field (a raised stage supporting him), inviting us nearer to hear his story. Here, the language is bright and moving – scripted by Sharon Clarke. One aim of the production was to touch on contemporary times – the resurgence of harsh values as a consequence of rising poverty – and this is the place it did it most effectively for me. At other times the character, beautifully played by Christopher Elson, moved among us and again drew us in with him. This simple technique was also welcome because, in places, our sense of journey in the promenade around the caverns was frustrated by the fact that you couldn’t see the action of some scenes for crowding. British theatre audiences are unused to close proximity – pushing to the front – except of course afterwards at the bar.

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About Vicky Vatcher

Vicky studied art, theatre, drama, and dance in the UK and the US, and has been directing and teaching aspects of theatre and performance for over 20 years. Her main interests lie in contemporary theatre and performance, focusing on non-text-based and non-linear-narrative work, and she particularly enjoys physical theatre and site-specific pieces. In 2015 she curated a multimedia project for the Bath Fringe festival, The River , which explored aspects of the lower Avon, and she hopes to develop this kind of work.