Upon entering the Pilch, we are met with the figures of crouching ballerinas, all staring intently at the centre of the stage. This eerie pre-set acts as an unsettling beginning for Hannah Kessler’s adaptation of Dario Argento’s celebrated horror flick, Suspiria. Our protagonist is Suzie Bannon, an English ballerina who has come to study at the famous Tanz Dance Academy – but the academy is not all that it seems. Following her arrival, several violent murders are committed, and she has a number of strange encounters with the denizens of the school. With the help of a fellow ballerina, Sarah, Suzie soon realises there is something more sinister at work here: the supernatural. Nicole Jacobus is affecting as Suzie, moving from candour to woozy confusion with ease: this is quite a feat, considering how grating her filmic counterpart is. Jessie See also gives a compelling performance as Sara, and her descent into hysteria creates an urgency essential to the denouement of the piece.
The production is suspenseful, but manages to retain its funny moments. The bitchy dynamic between the ballerinas is well executed, and the vampish ballerina Olga (Sophie Louise Morris) and the snarling instructor, Miss Tanner (Anusia Battersby) channel the campy humour of these original characters in the film. Some images were beautifully drawn, for example that of a ballerina writhing in barbed wire, and the soundscapes worked well. However, with minimal adjustments to Argento’s original script, the dialogue was stilted at points. Additionally, the execution of the murders was often underplayed in a way that didn’t quite live up to the shrieking and screeching of the victims.
The set was used inventively to create a sense of the academy itself: the cast held windows and door frames, and a veiled backdrop was used for some spooky shadow play. However, at least on opening night, the performance was rife with technical problems. The cast dealt with this admirably, but it meant that some of this imaginative staging was not fully realized. It must also be said that at the end of Suspiria, very few of the original questions raised are really addressed. Although this means we experience Suzie’s bewilderment to the full, the ending can feel a little baffling. While this can be attributed to the original film, which is known for its incoherent plot, I feel more could have been done to clarify the climax of this production.
In any case, Kessler’s choice to adapt Suspiria should be commended, especially since it is the first time this weird and wonderful film has been brought to the stage. The production team has certainly captured the pure silliness of Argento’s piece, particularly through the cast’s high-camp makeup and costumes, sporting bedazzled eyes and gaudy lipstick galore. It’s only an hour’s runtime, and with some lovely attention to detail and a committed cast, this is a quick and entertaining watch.