Just like Uncle Bulgaria I’m behind “The Times.” (Only people of a certain vintage will get that!) I’ve just realised that Emma Rice’s production of Wise Children is going on tour next year. I’m thankful for this as I wanted to see it at The Old Vic in London but I’m watching the pennies and couldn’t really justify the trip. So, Storeyhouse in Chester it is. A ticket has been purchased and I’m thrilled to see Angela Carter’s last novel brought to stage by the innovative director, Emma Rice.
So, who is Angela Carter? I recorded a BBC documentary about her recently; one of Britain’s greatest writers, she was an independent-minded woman, outspoken and challenging of the authorities. If you can find a copy of it, I recommend watching it. She was born in Sussex in 1940 and read English at Bristol university. She had a prolific writing career and all multi-layered tales, which were quirky and sometimes vulgar in style, were highly thought of and received critical acclaim. She died of lung cancer in 1992, aged just 51.
When I visited Bath a couple of years ago, I picked up a copy of Christopher Frayling’s book – Inside The Bloody Chamber. It’s a wonderful insight into Angela Carter, her work, other weird tales and the Gothic genre. When I read English Literature at UCLanc I chose the gothic novel as one of my options…I quickly ending up reading the list of books and not bothering with the lectures (once again concern arose that books of such beauty would be pulled apart and the overall effects lost.)
“I would really like to have had the guts and the energy and so on to be able to write about people having battles with the DHSS. But I haven’t. I’ve done other things. I mean, I’m an arty person. Okay, I write overblown, purple, self-indulgent prose. So fucking what…”
Angela Carter – interview with Kim Evans for the BBC
Christopher Frayling, historian and broadcaster, was a close friend of Angela Carter, and throughout the pages of this book that friendship is documented via both Carter’s literary works and personal correspondence with Frayling from the time she was living in Bath in the 1970s. It was during this time that she wrote many of her important literary works, The Sadeian Woman, The Passion of New Eve and The Bloody Chamber, from which the book gets its title.
The book is a collection of essay’s, articles and lectures which mirror many of the stories within The Bloody Chamber and cover all sorts of topics, from Hitchcock and Hammer horror films, Freud, Disney, The Hound of the Baskervilles and of course, vampires! It gives wonderful insight into the mind of Angela Carter, but also that of the horror story. Disney’s version of Snow White is well known all over the globe, but the tale was based on Snowdrop, translated by the Brothers Grimm (published 1823) which was a darker and more sadistic tale than Disney’s saccharine portrayal of a princess and her helpers. It is these investigations into tales and back stories, alongside the beautiful woodcut prints scattered amongst the text, which make this an appealing book for all lovers of the Gothic.
The Bloody Chamber and other stories is a fairy tale book like no other. It comprises of ten short stories which are reminiscent of some of the more popular tales we were told as children. But these stories are not for children. They are works of serious re-imagining, bringing sexual unease into the cruel world of the original fairy tales, making them darker and more twisted than the tales collected and recollected by the Brothers Grimm. What store lies in wait for the new bride in the bloody chamber, and what has happened to her husband’s previous wives? “I was seventeen and knew nothing of the world; my Marquis had been married before, more than once, and I remained a little bemused that, after those others, he should now have chosen me.”
Beauty and broken promises can destroy the life of the heartbroken Mr Lyon, whilst a game of cards changes the fortune of beast and betrothed. If you thought your cat was just a sleepy companion then you are wrong… “So may all your wives, if you need them, be rich and pretty; and all your husbands, if you want them, be young and virile; and all your cats as wily, perspicacious and resourceful as: PUSS-IN-BOOTS.” Never trust the smile on a sleeping feline.
These tales create a unique world of fantasy and show a writer with great imagination that the imperious reader may take instant dislike to. They break the chains of the righteous and have a dynamic energy because of that.
“What a joy it is to dance and sing.”
So, what will Emma Rice bring to the stage in Wise Children, Carter’s final novel? It is a tale about twins Dora and Nora Chance. It is Shakespeare’s birthday, it is also their 75th birthday, and in a bizarre coincidence it is the 100th birthday of their father and his twin brother. The tale could be heralded as Dora’s memoirs as she looks back through her life, to when her father was a prolific Shakespearean actor, who didn’t publicly acknowledge his daughters; instead the world believed they were the offspring of his brother instead.
Reviews at The Old Vic have been well received, saying it is a night of magic and stardust.
I’ll get back to you about that, in March, after I’ve had a chance to watch it for myself!
Dates and information about the tour can be found by clicking here: