Too Cool by Half: 'The Wild Bride' is Cluttered with Creativity

Aiming for boldly eclectic, Kneehigh Theater's The Wild Bride throws every artistic choice -- including the kitchen sink -- at its audience. Archetypal mythology is respun with stylized hipness, ethereality, puppetry, black humor, vaudevillian escapades, rhythm and blues music, tinged with Euro-Appalachian Anglo-Slavic-Arabic influences -- and lots of Tim Burton.

It's a valiant effort at avant-garde eclecticism that results in a barrage of clutter.

The Cornwall-based theatre company wowed me in '09 with its inventive, cinematic and tightly knit Brief Encounter at ACT.

But this time around, a little Ritalin wouldn't hurt. For all its panache, The Wild Bridefalls rather flat. Under Emma Rice's creative and hectic direction, the whole is somehow lesser than the sum of its parts.


Stu McLoughlin

The story begins with a Faustian bargain with the devil. Stuart McLaughlin's devil is a slippery rogue but none-too-menacing. Dressed in a dirt-poor man's long johns, (a la Tim Burton's Beetlejuice), or a shady, 1930s suit, this devil is part Brit, part bumpkin and more of a dirty varmint than a demon.

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But as a musician, McLaughlin is an impish entertainer. Accompanying himself on banjo or guitar, McLaughlin plays a few bluesy songs about the devil, invoking blues great, Robert Johnson who, legend has it, achieved his guitar expertise through a deal he made with the devil.


Audrey Brisson, Stu McLoughlin, Stuart Goodwin and Eva Magyar

The music itself is a success. Stu Barker brings together accordion, violin, bass and some great vocals to create an unadorned country-blues mood that hits the spot. The play hits some speed bumps when McLaughlin narrates in lackluster -- and eventually grating -- rhymed couplets. Carl Grose's text isn't especially inspiring.

The devil sets his sights on a young girl and fast talks her father into a trade. Stuart Goodwin plays the girl's foolish father in a vaudevillian manner; later, he plays her Scottish (why?) prince offering up some amusingly wacky antics.


Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar

Audrey Brisson stands out as the girl, a wordless role that is well conveyed through unsettling and powerful gestures. At other times, she sings and scats, revealing another side of her talent. Her movements are often mirrored by two other women, who will take turns inhabiting her older selves. Patrycja Kujawska plays the runaway girl, roaming the wild and learning to survive. Éva Magyar plays her older self beating the devil. All three fairly much dance their parts with artful grace. Still, Etta Murfitt's choreographing is often on the flatulent side of arty-farty.

The Wild Bride runs through January 1, 2012 at The Roda Theatre in Berkeley. For tickets or information visit berkeleyrep.org.

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