Review: The Sixth Heart by Brave Mirror Theatre Production @ Cotham Parish Church ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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By Milan Perera, Second Year English

A bold and brilliant production – compulsory viewing.

Bluebeard’s story is one of the most retold and reimagined folk tales. Its storyline has captured the imagination of literary colossi like Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. In The Sixth Heart playwright Natalie Beddows injects new energy into the traditional tale by deconstructing its core elements and adding a mercurial sheen.

After their trailblazing past productions (included The Tempest, Jane Eyre and Blood Cancer), the Bristol based theatre collective, The Brave Mirror, is back with another theatre spectacle that takes you on a 95 minute emotional rollercoaster. You might assume that you could predict the twists and turns of the adaptation. Instead, you’ll be taken on an electrifying and unpredictable journey.

The action unfolds as the narrator (played by Bobby Busvine) seamlessly enters the stage while the audience members are chatting to one another in sotto voce. Accompanied by menacing music, she bursts into the opening scene like a thunderbolt. Busvine executes the role of the narrator with ease – neither monotonous nor robotic in her delivery, her character is an active participant of the action.

We enter into a moment of celebration: the Count, who resides in a palatial mansion, is getting married, again. Yes, again. He and his group of hedonists make merry and mark the occasion with raucous celebrations. The bride, Ariane, walks into this atmosphere of decadence and decay with a blissful naïveté. Ariane is eventually left in charge of the Gothic mansion, with the key to a chamber that seems to be shut permanently.

After opening it, she is left with more questions than answers. Who did she marry? A sadist? A murderer? Is her fate already sealed? There is nowhere to run.

Elsa Rae Llewelyn, Gemma Lee and Bobby Busvine, who play the hedonists, capture the spectacle’s decadence and function as a conduit between the central action and the transfixed audience. Marius Hatteland-Dunn, the Count, portrays a nonchalantly sadistic disposition. His subtle equilibrium of tenderness and sadism is neatly executed, exclaiming ‘Every man has one secret!’ shortly after great declarations of love.

Sophia Woolfenden excels as Ariane, breathing life into the heroine who defies insurmountable odds. Woolfenden’s portrayal of Ariane is graced with panache and nuance but never predictability. Her carefully calibrated monologues filled the theatre with an all-present power.

Bobby Busvine as a hedonist | Epigram / Milan Perera

The venue, a cavernous church with neo-classical columns, accentuates the Gothic elements of the play. The original score by Jack Harding manages to capture the menacing and uneasy ambience of the set to perfection.

The tremendous round of applause that went for solid five minutes was a seal of approval of a thoroughly enthralled audience. The director Jamie Saul achieves a rare feat by bringing to life a folktale from time-gone-by and to a modern audience.

Speaking to exclusively to Epigram, playwright Natalie Beddows said she paid homage to Angela Carter, whose The Bloody Chamber made a lasting impression on her at college. ‘I wanted to use the traditional story as a vehicle to explore themes of violence, gender, sexual power dynamics and most importantly provide a voice to the hitherto suppressed protagonist.’

Producer Thomas Duggan was beaming with pride at another production which set the company’s benchmark even higher. He reiterated that, ‘ The Brave Mirror is a production company not a collective. So, for each production we carry out auditions to bring in new members to our productions.’

Featured Image: Epigram / Milan Perera


Have you seen any plays by Brave Heart Theatre productions?

‘The Doomed Hysteria of an Unexamined Mind’ @ Alma Tavern Theatre
‘Bristol: A Hidden Eden’ Premiere by Wildlife Film Society @ Room Above

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