Halloween may be over, but Bialystock&Bloom Productions’ rendition of Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s short plays, entitled Intruder and Seven Princesses, is not short on spookiness. The production ingeniously combines the symbolic nature of Maeterlinck’s writing with a 1930s horror style, leading us on an explorative journey through the human psyche.
In the preset, the actors create a surreal atmosphere of Gothic horror by shaking their bodies, letting out creepy laughter and whispering ‘sister’ under sinister red lighting. As the play begins, the audience is transported to a shifting world of madness and dreams as we follow a blind Grandfather, whose astute senses enable him to hear noises and scent the imminent approaching of death. The whole story centres around waiting – namely, a family waiting for the arrival of the Sister of Mercy to attend an ailing woman, yet it is from this stasis that drama unfolds. Suspense is further created through the constant mention of ‘seven princesses asleep’, juxtaposed with the absence of any actual princesses (a quintessential embodiment of Maeterlinck’s symbolism).
The performance appeals strongly to the senses with chilling ‘horror-movie’ sound effects such as doors knocking, people screaming in darkness and sudden elated laughter, while natural sounds such as trees trembling and nightingale song are used to indicate shifts in scenes. The music is impressive, with sinister tones guiding the audience through the approach of death. The actors’ dialogue complements the music well, as they adjust the pitch of their voices with that of the shifting sound.
The cast is absolutely brilliant. Their eerie makeup, grandiose style of acting, and ensemble connection, combined with the intimate setting of Burton Taylor Studio, easily keep the audience engaged for the whole performance. Ellie Milne-Brown gives a wonderful incarnation of the Aunt with constant angry outbursts and agitated body movements. Aisling Taylor exudes the hysteria and deranged nature of the Countess with undulant tones and exaggerated facial expressions. Particular mention must go to Rebecca Irvin’s portrayal of the Three Sisters and Ursula, which includes both high-pitched singing and impressive physicality.
This production is a very successful adaption of Maeterlinck’s plays, delivering the full extremity of his characters along with the complexities of their innermost emotions. Excellent performances are complemented by admirable technical choices, the sound forming an integral part of the play’s identity.