Kate Pesenti is chilled by Wrong Tree Theatre’s production, Bedlam.
You can make an accurate guess that seeing a show named Bedlam is not going to leave you in a warm and happy place. Wrong Tree Theatre’s production definitely doesn’t. But in spite of its focus on old themes, it still manages to deliver an engaging and touching evening.
The production’s location at the Bede Chapel is perfect. Its acoustics produce a great echo effect for the actors’ voices, adding a sinister effect but not affecting their audibility in any way. The chapel’s height and starkness are instantly unsettling from the moment you walk in. It seems to almost dwarf the actors, but the intimacy this type of production needs is still delivered through the close seating arrangement to the stage.
The real strong point of Bedlam is the relentless feeling of unease it creates. The actors watch you from the minute you walk in. The lighting effects are an icy white, giving the whole set a clinical feel. The stringy, classical music in the background is frankly horrible but creates a great atmosphere of dread. I’ve never really wanted a play to begin more just out of sheer discomfort.
As for the play itself, the plot is formulaic but done well. A lot of credit should be given to the actors, who kept the action from feeling too melodramatic, which in clumsier hands it could have been. It’s difficult to point at particular performances, given that every actor really had a moment where they shone. However, I think praise should be given to Isabel McGrady, who not only endured being thrown about on stage and scrubbed with water, but who gave a genuinely impassioned and incredibly sympathetic delivery throughout the piece. I doubt the first scene would have been so impactful without her. I also thought Alana Mann gave an especially nuanced character and was definitely one of the most believable aspects of the piece.
Direction wise, Bedlam excelled in the treatment scenes. They were fundamentally nasty but wonderfully stylised, difficult to watch but still compelling. The costume design added a whole other dimension to the blood-letting scene. The only real flaw is that sometimes the choreography went on a bit long, undermining the emotional impact it had. This was only occasional though, and on the whole, it was well timed and helped emphasise the themes of isolation and entrapment really well.
The ending was predictable, but that didn’t stop it from being touching. It should be said now that if you’re in a sad mood, don’t go see Bedlam. But if you want to see truly authentic theatre, it’s a must see.
Bedlam will be playing in Bede Chapel on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd February at 7:30pm.
Photograph: Lyndsey England.