Review: The Wild Bride ****

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West Yorkshire Playhouse

After an all too long two and a half year absence from the West Yorkshire Playhouse – its home in the North – Kneehigh Theatre makes a return.

The company is back for the first time since Spring 2009, which leads to the major criticism of this show: it has been far too long since we last saw them. A sell-out, short run and palpable sense of anticipation on opening night was all the evidence needed that Leeds remains a passionate audience for this innovative, entertaining company; there is a sense of ownership here.

The latest show, The Wild Bride, is full of those lyrical, playful and incredibly dark moments that fans – and the audience appeared to be full of them – will recognise.

Director and adapter Emma Rice had a stab at the ancient Hungarian tale of the Handless Maiden almost a decade ago and admits it was a failure. If ever you needed a demonstration that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes, this is it.

The tale of a girl whose father mistakenly sells his daughter to the devil, it feels like the story isn’t simply being told by Rice, but has been excavated by her. No dark corner of the fairytale is left untouched, leading to a piece of theatre that is as eloquent as it is poetic. On very brief occasion it means it is also a little indulgent, but hardly any of the story on show is extraneous.

A beautiful seemingly complex set is surprisingly simple if examined in its constituent parts, a metaphor for the whole piece. As it is with the set, so it is with the whole production – a girl has her hands cut off, represented simply by plunging her hands into a bucket of red paint – and yet the simplicity of the scene is deeply moving.

Before she becomes Wild, the Bride of the title is a girl, played silently by Audrey Brisson.

Beguiling, the hurt on her face when she discovers her doting daddy has sold her to the devil is almost too much to bear. Brisson’s performance is mesmerising, but it is not stand out, because, as usual, the whole cast are quite something to watch, from Stuart Goodwin, who goes on an enormous emotional journey as the Prince, to Stuart McLoughlin who has a ball as the Devil.

There is something raw, dirty and visceral about the work of Kneehigh, all qualities on show in abundance here. It’s good to have them back.

To Nov 19.