The Magic Toyshop - theatre review

Theatre Ink and Theatr Iolo present
Angela Carter’s ‘The Magic Toyshop’
Adapted by Alan Harris, Directed by Sita Calvert-Ennals
Chapter Arts centre Cardiff showing until May 17th
On tour 2015

‘The Magic Toyshop’ is a gothic fairy tale that explores the tragic world of women through the metaphor of living dolls, marionettes and puppeteers. The play has a taste for the macabre, reminiscent of a Tim Burton production but arguably, cranked up a few more psychologically twisted notches.

It was a rare and special experience for me to enter a theatre space in which the theatre is already happening. I was no longer a passive spectator rather, an active participant in the play. Like it or not I had become a voyeur in a pubescent girl’s bedroom. The fifteen year old Melanie lies on a bed tentatively exploring her developing self while her face and body express signals of an emergent adult sexuality. I regretted the insensitivity of the audience on this occasion who chattered through the opening of this play - in itself an enactment of the ‘woman taboo’ that cannot be thoughtfully looked upon. The beauty and freedom of this opening scene is however, quickly dispersed as Melanie loses both her parents. Melanie’s future is spun into disarray as she is forced to take up occupancy at her seedy and domineering Uncle Philip’s house.

Throughout the play I am absorbed into the experience of this dark, strange world. I am not allowed to watch passively. I am certainly not permitted to be comfortable. Features like this I believe make ‘The Magic Toyshop’ a cutting edge production, different from anything else I have experienced and truly authentic from start to finish.

What made this a five star production in my eyes was the rigorous attention to detail which integrated all facets of the play seamlessly. The set for example, distressed, fragile, beautiful, perfectly mirrored the expressions on the character’s faces. At Uncle Philip’s gothic toy shop the dolls houses are balanced precariously one on top of the other, puppets are suspended from the walls with austere uncertainty, the kitchen table and domestic items appear worn under heavy use. Post production I sought permission to view close-up inside the dolls houses. It was then that I understood the finite eye of the production team. I viewed a micro-exhibition of toy figures climbing up walls, off ceilings hap hazardous clowns balanced on pianos with torn music sheets, offset portraits and worn out furniture. The dark dysfunction of this household seemed to go deeper than even the audience could see. The use of sound (notably live sound) was also prominent in my mind. Again, I experienced sound that was so carefully used it seemed to come from within the characters. Whether it was a slow ticking clock, a clashing confusion of music boxes or the violin played with warmth or eerie discordance, the music laid bare the internal worlds of ‘The Toy shop’s’ characters.
Finally the acting was superb. Each of the five actors showed extraordinary talent delivering moments of comedy, tragedy and drama with skilful timing. I must make particular mention of the actress Kirsty Cox, who plays the largely non-verbal role of Aunt Margaret with spell binding genius. The power of her stage presence is held almost entirely by the look of sheer terror etched upon her face. Could she possibly sustain this for an entire performance? I asked myself. REALLY? Yes, she absolutely did.

As the play progresses the audience finds themselves drawn more and more into the madness of this story. The bizarre new social construct demands all moral judgement be left at the door as our blessing is found upon a most unusual union. The ending of the play sees the triumph of the human spirit over oppression, yet far removed from the saccharine of Disney. The final climactic scene pitches the dramatic tension so high I almost fear for my own life. Fortunately I live to tell the tale... for it is indeed a good one. Go see it.

(c) Sarah Dosomah 2014

www.chapter.org
Theatre Ink and Theatr Iolo present
Angela Carter’s ‘The Magic Toyshop’
Adapted by Alan Harris, Directed by Sita Calvert-Ennals
Chapter Arts centre Cardiff showing until May 17th
On tour 2015

Author's review: 
5